How to connect the islands
In Part 2, we talked about the ways islands are formed in organizations, especially with Community Development Departments. In our final installment, let's talk a little bit about how to bring these teams back together and operate more efficiently as a single unit.
This seems like the most obvious solution but sometimes those are the best and also sometimes the least pursued. Co-locating teams isn't always possible but when it is it can produce the quickest results. Not only does having teams in the same proximity offer more organic relationship building and continuity for the teams, it also can provide a better experience for the public.
Having to go to one desk to apply for a permit then to another on a different floor or even building to pay, then back again to pick up a permit is highly inefficient and appears to the public to not have been the product of much thought or planning.
If you can't physically relocate departments and payments need to be centralized by finance or treasury, if volume warrants it, consider stationing a team member from finance/treasury who collects payments at the Community Development counter. This individual could collect any type of payments they would normally collect elsewhere. This would not only allow these team members to more formally integrate with other departments but would also create a better experience for the public who may show up at the wrong place to pay their water bill. Maybe this location is even closer and more convenient for them so they'll continue to use it. Team members could be rotated into this role periodically to maximize the amount of integration between staff.
If you have already moved to online intake and payments, look for other ways to integrate these staff members. Immersion is the quickest way to orientate people to each other. If your organization is hybrid, make sure to rotate the days people are in the office so they become familiar with other individuals and are not limited in the scope of their engagement with others.
Teams who utilize different software solutions tend to have large disconnects in processes and understanding for each other's roles.
The best processes are not identified in an SOP that is never updated and rarely referenced; it's baked directly into the tools that users utilize on a daily basis.
A great ERP system will integrate all departments, account for and manage all workflow and provide visual cue's and queue's for users to organize their work. Your system should allow free exchange of information between modules to allow the input for the initiation of processes in one team to originate from the output of the process of another team. When teams visualize the overall flow of a process, they gain understanding of each other's role and begin to close the gap between their islands. Here is an example of an inter-departmental process that software should manage well end-to-end between teams.
Some municipalities will weight the needs of one department over another, thinking that by purchasing a system that caters more to the one they value more will help that department more. In fact, in most cases the opposite occurs. When functionality is lacking in other departments who have shared process integrations with the one being favored, the department being favored typically has to perform more manual, labor-intensive processes than if they would have potentially considered more heavily the needs of others.
In the example above, every activity but one owned by the Financial Management team is automated. If the municipality purchased a system that performs well at core financials but lacks integration with the Community Development and/or Work Order systems, many of those processes would instead be manual. While it may seem counterintuitive that considering other teams processes as much as your own will ultimately benefit you, this is a common scenario we see when the right vendor is vetted and selected.
This is one of the biggest reasons for underwhelming software migrations. Partnering with an experienced consultant like Munivate to properly uncover all of the related processes and meticulously ensure they are capable of being implemented by proposed vendors is one of the key benefits of working with us.
Whether you let us help you or go about it alone, be sure this is a primary focus to ensure that islands are not formed between teams.
Cross-Training is one of the single most effective ways of gaining mutual understanding. The best teams I have worked with had members of departments who moved from another department. By learning various roles around the organization they can not only personally identify and understand integrated processes but they can help their team integrate with other teams as well.
If you have these individuals in your organization, lean on them regularly in bridging gaps. If you don't, consider taking these steps to gain this advantage going forward:
Open positions internally before externally and allow team members to move around the organization
Proactively ask team members to apply for open roles in other teams who you think would benefit personally from growing within the organization and/or who may bring a lot of value to their new department. Don't be scared to lose experience in one role by moving team members. The overall experience and knowledge level of the organization will elevate exponentially by actively engaging in this practice and you will find that you will have more coverage across your organization in emergency situations while benefiting from more cohesive and empathetic teams.
Offer continued education courses internally to allow team members to learn new topics. This could be a Com Dev team member learning the fundamentals of accounting or an FM team member learning about planning and zoning.
While not my favorite solution since it isn't embedded into tools used by teams, knowledge bases or team sites can supplement knowledge transfer and act as a repository for truth in the organization.
Cross-training is one of the foundations to achieving common knowledge. Munivate can not only help train your team on certain software but can also create online training programs, videos, and in-person training sessions to teams covering a wide range of topics important to an organization. Having a dedicated onboarding partner can be a major benefit to your organization.
Resolve Power Struggles
As we spoke about in Part 2, power struggles are one of the main reasons teams find themselves on islands. Here are a few things organizations can do to help eliminate these:
Seat at the Table - give affected departments or teams a voice when it comes to decisions. Try to make that voice someone knowledgeable, trusted and respected within that team.
Seek Objectivity - building an agreeable leadership team can make it feel like a lot of progress is happening but when leadership positions are comprised of individuals who can't offer alternative consultation without the fear of ostracization, the organization will lack representation of the teams and the organization can turn into a runaway train. This inevitably leads to team members battling against one another in an effort to represent themselves in the absence of proper representation from above. Encourage and reward team leaders and members who speak up with counterpoints and aggressively put ideas on trial to shake out the right solutions that can truly make for great organizational change.
Elevate the Underrepresented - seek out those who are underrepresented and magnify their voices. Some departments or teams are small and often overlooked. This is often also the case with individuals who are demographical minorities. Seek out opportunities to routinely and actively solicit feedback from team members who fall into these underrepresented groups and provide them with a platform to not only be heard but to be impactful to the organization.
Understand Team Objectives - a team who directly services the public on a daily basis is going to have a vastly different perspective than one who serves internal customers. It's important to understand each team's perspective and who they serve in order to truly identify with their perspective and create a culture of collaboration within your organization.
Re-Engage Team Members
When team members lose interest in improving processes, cross-training, or engaging in projects, it can be for various reasons but some of the common ones I have seen are:
History of Failure - the most common reason is that initiatives in the past failed to have lasting positive affect on the team member(s). Newer team members are more likely to become excited at opportunities to impact change in an organization but if the initiatives consistently fail to positively affect certain teams, they will become leery of jumping on board and buying-in to future initiatives. If you find yourself always needing to seek out fresh team members for initiatives, it may be a symptom of this issue. Work to identify these individuals by actively engaging in conversations with them to learn about their experience. Not only could you get them on-board but you may also learn valuable lessons from the past about pitfalls to avoid. A simple way to engage them is to start by acknowledging how many projects they have been involved with and asking them to be involved in your initiative to help avoid the same issues as the past. These individuals usually end up being some of your most valuable assets.
Lack of Confidence - individuals with confidence issues may shy away from cross-training, especially areas that they may feel are traditionally staffed by more educated individuals or is an area of specialization. Use iterative and incremental approaches to training in these cases. Incorporate cross-training content into continuing education courses within their current domain. An example might be to ask an existing permit technician to sit in a class taught to a new permit technician. During this session, also cover another topic like introduction to journal entries as it relates to permitting. The new permit tech may not learn the additional content but the other likely will. Lastly, try having the individual conduct a training for a new team member or the rest of the team. When an individual trains others on content, they immediately become stronger on the content themselves. They usually learn new things while preparing for the session as well.
Anxiety - it's important to recognize when someone may lack excitement for or fail to jump into new initiatives due to anxiety. Anxiety can be a debilitating condition for some during certain situations but are otherwise highly valuable to your team. It's easy to assume someone is avoiding participation for nefarious reasons. Many times a person may have an uncontrollable physical response to group engagement. Sometimes this is just temporary and initial and once their bodies defense response subsides they can be just as engaged as others. In other cases, it may never allow the individual to get to that point. If you suspect someone struggles with anxiety, try to avoid certain triggers such as vague emails to "have a talk" or giving them a crucial situation or conversation to plan for. If you can engage the individual without triggering this response, you will get the most from them since they will be relaxed and not in a cold sweat. Try "accidentally" running into them in a common area like a break room or hallway and allow a conversation to initiate naturally and see if a relaxed transition point can be found to migrate into topics you believe they could be helpful with. If those with anxiety feel like your intentions are positive and they can be relaxed speaking with you, you will often get the most out of them.
Cost-Benefit - team members who fail to see the benefit of contributing time they may be short on towards an initiative that returns little to them may be less likely to buy-in. This is a tough objection to overcome and sometimes their involvement may really mean short-term loss in productivity. It's important to balance the necessity of their involvement in this case and to really listen if they have concerns because they may very well be valid. At the same time, if someone will always be busy it's important not to overlook them for credit on a successful project just because they weren't directly involved. By keeping daily operations in-tact during a project, these individuals also contributed toward the success. Be sure to recognize this as an achievement when the project is a success and remember to consider them for opportunities and advancements just as those who were directly involved in the project.
Here is an overview of some other important things to consider when trying to keep team members off their islands:
Engage Team Members - when decisions are being made, consult those affected aggressively. Manage from facts, not fear, emotion, or hearsay. Get information at the root level whenever possible. This not only allows the most educated decisions to be made but helps build bridges with team members and helps defuse future defensiveness.
Listen Actively - when team members are engaged, they can tell if the approach is sincere. If they feel like they are being soft-skilled, this will backfire. Most people these days are aware of active communication skills being taught. Start with a genuine intent on seeking their input with a genuine intent to use the information in your decision-making process.
Eliminate Pre-Meeting-Meetings - any organization with leaders that have a meeting before a meeting to discuss strategy for influencing the outcome or of people during the meeting is one that is not genuine and will inevitably see team member attrition. Most team members can see trends over time. If they feel like decisions are already made before meetings where their input is supposedly being solicited, you will lose them fast. Being deceived is one of the quickest ways to losing trust between teams and management and forcing people on an island.
Implement Ideas Actively - aggressively seek opportunities to try ideas from team members. Even if you think something may not work, be assertive in your effort in understanding their perspective. While you may see the big picture, that picture is made up of a lot of detail that you likely don't see. Dig in as much as possible and help teams with the small problems. These will add up to changes a lot bigger over time.
Cross-Train - another outcome of cross-training is mutual respect. Knowing what another team goes through to perform their job helps teams gain appreciation for each other's and can help them engage with others and initiatives within the organization.
Invest in Teams
Investing in a team is the number one vote of confidence in them and a great way to show that you value them.
You don't always have to spend money to invest either. You can also invest in them by learning more about their value from their perspective and using it to steer the ship. Ask teams what they feel they bring to the table. The answers may surprise you and show you value or new ways of utilizing that team member toward accomplishing the overall mission of the organization.
Another great way to invest in a team by way of learning their value is to ask them what KPI's they feel best tell their story or their value. While you may have data you believe gives you the pulse of their department, it may not really be indicative of their value. For instance, if you looked at the number of new construction permits issued per month in a community that is mostly built out, it may be misleading. If you instead looked at the number of inspections it may show more accurate volume indicators. You may find that the majority of their work is for additions, alterations, and trade permits. You may also find that they invest a lot of time into proactive code enforcement or rental housing inspections.
Asking a team what metrics they believe tell their story will allow you to establish a better baseline on their workload and subsequently their needs.
Wrapping it up
Hopefully, this series will help organizations identify islands earlier and help connect them back to others. To finish up, here are some questions you can ask your teams to help reconnect and truly re-engage with them for the purpose of furthering the mission of your organization.
In your perspective, what is your role for your team?
What are you great at?
What are you struggling with?
What are areas other teams can help with to make your job easier?
What other areas of the organization interest you?
What are your cross-knowledge strengths?
Do you feel you are being used to your strengths?
Do you feel like we are using technology effectively and to its capabilities?
Do you feel like we have the right technology in place?
Do you feel like the technology we have in place is configured optimally?
We would love to hear your perspective. Please reach out and share your stories and experiences or feedback regarding this series and others at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Munivate offers a range of professional services to Community Development teams and Municipal Governments such as software procurement and demo consulting to change management, project management, training, and software administration. Message us to learn more at email@example.com