I go to the farmer’s market every weekend. I'm always in awe of the beauty and variety of the harvest the farmers produce. The fresh fruits and vegetables are so colorful and fragrant, I really enjoy just walking around and having a look. Their variety and success is amazing, but not accidental. This produce didn’t just grow randomly. Each farmer decided what he or she wanted to grow. They found the proper place to plant each seed, and carefully nurtured the plants until the food was ripe.
Businesses “grow” things with intention too. They can produce the kind of culture they want by cultivating certain attitudes, behaviors, and activities. Cross functional collaboration is a great example. Many leaders understand its advantages and know they want more of it, but can’t figure out how to get it to take root. I think we can look to farmers for some guidance.
The Right Soil
Delicious plants do not grow in bad dirt. Effective business behaviors, like cross functional collaboration, don’t grow in bad cultures. In order for employees to feel engaged and empowered enough to work across boundaries to solve your company’s toughest challenges, they must inhabit and environment that is healthy and supportive. This means keeping it free from the “weeds” of negativity, fear, defensiveness, and possessiveness.
Plenty of Sunlight
Transparency is the sunlight of cross functional collaboration. Teams simply can’t effectively work across boundaries if they are kept in the dark. Ensuring that everyone has a real-time view into the status of active improvement projects speeds the pace of change and creates a repository for future opportunities for improvement. It is also important that overall business objectives, priorities, and values are openly discussed so that teams are in the position to make the best decision for the business.
Fertilizer is food for plants. Recognition is food for collaboration. It may seem a little simplistic, too easy perhaps, but the best way to get someone to do what you want them to do is to recognize and reward them when they do it. When people in different roles get together to effect positive change, let them know that the work is appreciated. In fact, broadcast the success to the entire organization so that others can learn by example.
Leadership is the water your organization needs to creating a thriving culture of collaboration. Just as a garden can't grow without consistent watering, cross functional collaboration can't grow without leadership. Leaders must give people time to work cooperatively, promote activities that increase the chances of cross functional collaboration, eliminating barriers, and incentivizing collaboration. Without leadership that provides a steady stream of support, cross functional collaboration will dry up and wither away.
So next time you enjoy a perfectly ripe pear or a delicious ear of grilled corn, think about what seeds you want to sow in your organization - and what you need to do to cultivate them.