While it has long been known that happy, motivated and productive teams are the engine that drives business growth, the past five years have seen rapid evolutions in how businesses connect with their employees. Contributor Paul Barwick-Copeland, Practice Lead, Employee & B2B Experience Sarah Wood, Client Partner.
The traditional employer-employee relationship was quite fixed, with people generally working nine-to-five, remaining in jobs for a long time and teams being made up of whoever worked in the same building as you. In recent years, however, this working environment has fundamentally changed.
The new, fluid, concept of the ‘employee’ has altered the challenges that employers face when trying to engage their workforce. This fragmentation is mainly due to the explosion in outsourcing, flexible working and the gig economy.
As is to be expected, all of these changes have produced new expectations among employees. People now want to work for an organisation that reflects their views, and ‘cultural fit’ is a huge consideration for job applicants. Interestingly, for all the talk of so-called ‘millennial’ behaviours the desire for more meaningful work is widespread across all age groups.
Enterprises themselves are also no longer content with a happy workforce. They increasingly want to ‘engage’ more deeply with employees, and new technology has made it easier than ever to gather feedback. These factors have contributed to employee/employer relations becoming ever more complicated and, in some instances, strained. It’s not enough for an organisation to pay lip service to notions of diversity, they must be living those values authentically.
The question then must turn to how organisations can navigate their way through this shifting landscape and build better employee relationships?
The power of a shared goal
Ultimately, this is still a conversation about values and culture. The principles of good leadership are still applicable.
This may seem reductive, but engaging your employees still comes down to fostering an environment in which diverse individuals are all connected by their contributions towards a common goal. Without this organisational through-line a business will struggle to harness the best of its people.
The inclination to see ourselves as part of something greater than the sum of its parts is entrenched within us. By nature we are social creatures, and the ability to build instinctive and purposeful teamwork gives us a common purpose.
This isn’t to say that teamwork is just ‘playing nice’. Rather, teamwork should be provocative and challenging. The best teams are heterogeneous and unafraid of seeking opposing opinions. This process helps people to feel that they are contributing meaningfully, instead of partaking in a superficial discussion. This isn’t something that happens by chance for any business, but it is critical to creating a harmonious organisation.
Three steps to build organisational harmony
Organisational harmony takes a high degree of orchestration and establishing your business’ common purpose is crucial. Once this purpose is in place, it needs to be constantly reinforced throughout the whole company.
Make collaboration your constant
Building communication channels within your organisation is arguably the most essential step. However, this is about more than setting up email groups and instant messaging services. Physical forums where people from across the company can interact, share ideas and look over the parapet at what’s happening beyond their own teams are paramount.
These spaces are crucial to nurturing a culture where people feel able to ask questions and share ideas. It’s not very likely that any one person in your organisation will know everyone else, but that doesn’t mean that everyone should be siloed off. Leaders can play an important step in implementing this by setting the example and offering multiple channels for feedback.
Trust your team to find their own tools
The key to having authentic employee engagement is never going to be buying a tech platform and assuming that it’s going to fix everything. That’s not to say that these platforms have no place, they can certainly facilitate a transition to newer ways of working. The issue is that if they aren’t adopted in line with broader organisational change, they will fall flat.
People want to have the flexibility to work in the way that best suits them. In this sense organisations need to allow for a ‘bottom up’ adoption of technology. It can be a difficult process to find the right balance, but enforcing overly strict processes can stifle progress and hinder collaborative development.
Offer complete transparency on every function in the business
Another element to creating a collaborative, cohesive culture is to respect everybody’s roles. Those in leadership positions can help to foster an understanding that every person and every department are of equal value. Being clear on this is an essential step in building the sort of flexible, cross-functional teams that drive innovation.
It’s through understanding each other’s roles that people will feel comfortable seeking the opinions of those in seemingly tangential functions. If everyone is heading in the same the direction, and they all understand how they help each other get there, then there’s no barriers in seeking a different view of a problem.
Cooperation and cohesion
The importance of these principles needs to be reinforced regularly by the organisation and at all levels. Building strong relationships based on teamwork doesn’t happen by chance, and it isn’t fostered in a one-off induction session.
Instead, encouraging cohesion, collaboration and empathy between different parts of the business needs to be an ongoing effort. It is a huge challenge, but executed properly it is the only strategy that can ensure that everyone is working to a common goal – a truly harmonious organisation.