How to Strengthen Company Cohesion in a Polarized Society

, , ,
Researchers have found that one of the best ways to help employees de-stress is to get rid of meetings.

To say that we live in a fragmented, polarized world can feel like an understatement. From hybrid workplaces creating disparities between in-office and remote employees to the social and political unrest that dominate headlines, there are countless ways that the stresses of our modern world can create disunity and discord in the office. Add to that the uncertainty of an economy that is piling up layoffs, and you give employees every reason to hunker down, withdraw into spaces they feel in control, and become self-involved in their own unrest.

And that’s a great recipe to destroy the performance of a company.

Great leaders naturally want their businesses to become places where people can experience cohesion and harmony. And while this can certainly happen with the right culture, many leaders rely on cosmetic approaches that don’t achieve the intended result. With the best of intentions, leaders grasp for levers they hope will rally the organization to a place of alignment and commitment. But their own angst and desperation has them reaching for connection in all the wrong places.

While there are certainly many ways leaders can make a mess out of their efforts to create cohesion in the workplace, understanding common mistakes and their solutions can help you achieve true cohesion and unity.

Mistake 1: Focus On Cosmetic Values and Unrealistic Targets

When trying to create cohesion, leaders often create lofty goals or targets for their company. These are exciting goals that may look good on paper, like being the “number one provider” or “fastest growing company” in your niche. But they often fail to create a clear strategy that everyone in your business can become aligned with. They are goals without a clearly defined strategy. They devolve into a campaign, not a plan that can align the organization around a shared future.

“Too many businesses try to throw out lofty goals to see what sticks,” explained Parth Pandya, VP of robotics and automation at First Horizon, during a recent conversation. “In reality, you should start by developing a carefully crafted strategy that everyone in your organization can align to and support. A substantiated plan that defines how you differentiate your capabilities from others in the market, as well as areas like core customers or areas of investment, will have a much longer-lasting influence by creating a shared direction for your company.”

Similarly, many organizations adopt new “values” that are really intended as course-correction, rather than a reflection of what the company actually believes or prioritizes. Catchy phrases that don’t align with what actually happens in your business can create cynicism and disconnect—and even erode trust between employees and leaders. To achieve true cohesion, stated values must be consistent with your actions and vision. Instead of sloganeering, shape your culture around the positive lived experience of employees, and be honest about the places where your say-do ratio is too wide. You will win the hearts of your people with honesty about your culture, not by putting lipstick on the pig.

Mistake 2: Use Lots of Meetings for Decision Governance

When attempting to enhance cohesion within your organization, you might be tempted to think that more meetings are going to help drive unity. After all, spending more time together—ideally in a collaborative setting—seems like it would be a great way to create unity and foster a sense of shared vision.

The reality, however, is that when decision rights are largely left to meetings, those meetings can ultimately undermine your efforts. It is estimated that businesses lose $37 billion per year because of unproductive meetings, and that workers waste an average of 31 hours each month because of them.

Spending time together does not automatically lead to cohesion. An excessive number of meetings to discuss reports or make decisions can hurt cohesion because employees become resentful of those who are causing them to waste their time, or worse, the orchestrated theater of making decisions that have already been made.

As they have less time to perform their own tasks and responsibilities, productivity and engagement can slip, leading to stress and burnout. In fact, researchers have found that one of the best ways to help employees de-stress is to get rid of meetings.

So how do you do this?

Define decision rights within your organization. Clearly distributed authority and governance can speed up decision-making, empowering individual team members and giving everyone more time to focus on their key tasks. When each individual feels like their time is valued, they’ll naturally become more engaged and unified with your big-picture vision.

Subscribe to the Ethical Systems newsletter

Mistake 3: Continue to Limit Cross-Functional Collaboration

It’s one thing to say that you want to develop cohesion within your business. But when your company continues to take actions that prevent or discourage cross-functional collaboration, those barriers are going to remain. Your greatest competitive distinctions happen at organizational “seams,” where two or more functions intersect to create capabilities your competitors don’t have. When these seams are weak, your ability to compete is compromised.

“Even when priorities are aligned, cross-functional collaboration can struggle when responsibilities aren’t clearly defined or delegated, and when poor communication results in missing context for some groups,” Pandya explains. “Teams need to have access to software tools and be empowered by a culture that makes it easy to communicate and collaborate with anyone in the business. Keeping everyone aligned through transparent data and simplified communication will keep everything on track.”

All too often, different departments within a business will be completely siloed from each other. They each use their own communications and data collections tools. The only way to collaborate with someone outside their department is with a meeting—and we already know those usually don’t work.

Leaders need to make sure they aren’t just talking the talk when they encourage collaboration between teams. They must carefully assess the technologies and culture of their business to ensure that they are actually enabling those collaborations.

Emphasizing the common goal shared by multiple teams should be a core part of this messaging. For example, while your sales and web design teams play different roles, they typically share the same common goal of increasing conversions. Emphasizing how each team’s tasks contribute to that goal—and how they can help each other—will drive cohesion and collaboration that lifts the entire business.

Getting It Right

Achieving true cohesion in the workplace takes time, as well as some trial and error. You’ll never be able to fully eliminate negative outside influences in your employees’ lives. But by taking steps that create meaningful change within your business and its culture, you can maximize your potential for cohesive work that delivers quality results.

Ron Carucci is an Advisory Board member of Ethical Systems as well as cofounder and managing partner at Navalent. He is the bestselling author of eight books, and his work has been featured in Fortune, CEO Magazine, Harvard Business Review, BusinessInsider, MSNBC, BusinessWeek, and Smart Business.

Lead image: James Boast / Ikon Images / NTB

Reprinted with permission from Forbes.