By Kyle Michel
An all-too-common problem in numerous organizations is the lack of awareness across functional areas regarding cross-functional work efforts such as developing key account plans, coordinating product development, and sharing new processes. Knowing what’s happening in an individual’s immediate vicinity is simple and relatively effortless. Yet, keeping employees aware of happenings outside their typical day-to-day operations takes intentional effort.
The pursuit of synergy permeates the management of most large insurance companies. Meetings and town halls are held to brainstorm ways to collaborate more effectively. Reorganizationl plans take shape to accommodate new, cross-unit managerial positions. And, incentives for sharing knowledge, best practices, and leads are built into compensation schemes.
What’s the result from all this activity? We find that synergy initiatives often fall short of management’s expectations. Some generate a quick flurry of activity and then slowly peter out. Others are put into a binder and collect dust without ever fulfilling their original goals. If the only shortcomings to these efforts were lost time and frustration, they might be viewed as learning experiences.
Gaps in knowledge create missed opportunities for synergy. What’s worse is they leak efficiency and dollars. It distracts managers’ attention from the nuts and bolts of their businesses, and it pushes aside other initiatives that might generate real benefits.
This problem can be difficult to quantify and tackle. We offer three proactive steps you can take to ensure your organization runs efficiently.
1) Be cognizant of organizational gaps. A problem that is unknown cannot be addressed. Be aware of problems that exist as well as the size and scope of them. Is the problem akin to adding a coat of paint to a house, or rebuilding the foundation? To stay aligned on organizational priorities and work efforts, leaders of different functional areas can regularly sync up and involve their respective teams.
During routine check-ins with their teams, managers can ask them what they know about organizational-wide initiatives. Be vigilant for any conversation that suggests an issue. A remark based on outdated information, or even an offhand comment relaying frustration, could be a sign that awareness and communication are low and that problems and inefficiencies are likely to arise. Use tools such as surveys to get a temperature check on a sense of unknowing within the team. These methods can identify problems before they grow into serious issues that take heavy effort to resolve.
2) Communicate, communicate, communicate. It is easy to assume that news, decisions, or action items will make their way to the appropriate individuals. Oftentimes the message doesn’t make it all the way through the organization or it gets garbled along the way like in the childhood “telephone” game.
Having clear communication paths and defined roles for who will disseminate the message is critical to ensure accurate information flows throughout the organization. Defining centers to hold information and making clear where they are and how often they are updated can also alleviate this problem. For example, posting updates on a remote-friendly team workspace such as Confluence or a company dashboard can save time and create a source of truth. Leadership video updates, emails, town halls, team meetings, and all-hands meetings are also excellent forums to share knowledge and move work forward.
3) Clearly set expectations on priorities. Wasted time and inefficiency can be a chronic problem when teams don’t know what work is the most critical. Leaders across functional areas need to openly communicate the current priorities, especially when they shift. Once priorities are established, they help teams stay organized and on-task. Time is a limited resource and spending it in the wrong place at the wrong moment can be costly. Define who has the authority to prioritize work activity, and setup a centralized workspace where priorities are made visible (as mentioned above).
These three strategies can be summed up in one word: Visibility. Whether it’s for the leadership team or rank and file employees, visibility is key to operational efficiency, enabling flexibility, and cooperation on a higher level.