According to research done by the Boston Children’s Hospital the brains of autistic people show less long-distance connections than the brains of healthy people. It is much alike the railroad system in Europe: within countries the railway intensity is high, but crossing borders by train is often a very inefficient process.
We see a similar pattern in organizations. Within business units like teams, departments or offices the number and quality of connections is mostly of an adequately high level, but the connectivity between the various groups is often insufficient. As a result, many organizations achieve less than they could. A number of small but highly targeted steps can improve organizational performance significantly.
Many organizations that perform well below their potential show behavioral patterns that we see with autistic people. The connectivity between the various business units is relatively low. This low density of connections causes of the formation of organizational silos. The inward-looking behavior is enhanced as the various business units often have their own goals. Furthermore building mutual contacts is not often explicitly stimulated.
Building mutual contacts can be actively motivated. A first step to do this is by defining an inspiring mutual goal that crosses different business units. This goal has be external, enhancing an outward-looking focus and decreasing the danger of the formation of organizational silos.
A second step is reinforcing connections between teams. One way to do this is by asking teams simply to explain to each other what they do and to stimulate the team members to ask questions to get to know each other better. Sharing information creates a bond that builds mutual trust. This is a gradual process that has to be repeated regularly.
A third step is changing individual behavior during internal meetings. This may sound strange, but stimulating behavioral patterns within team leads to behavioral changes between teams.
At one of my customers we defined mutual project goals for a team of 40 people distributed over four departments and two business units. As every person in the project team was involved in the process each member quickly felt part of the team. We invited all team members to sit together in one room, which they reluctantly did. Each team member could decide where to sit. Being in one room increased the energy level in the team and shortened communication lines considerably.
During meetings we increased the attention for building mutual connections. We asked open questions and invited all team members to build on each other’s ideas. As a result the number of conflicts decreased visibly, the team focus increased considerably and mutual trust grew on-the-fly. People felt strongly involved in the process and took responsibility where necessary. According to plan we released our first product to a very satisfied customer after only seven months.
Underperforming organizations often build relatively few long-distance connections. The performance level of any organization can be increased within the current structure by changing behavioral patterns both at team level and at individual level. Small targeted adjustments help to achieve major changes. After all the solution is in your people!