During a pandemic, leaders will need to be even more proactive in building trust with their teams and giving people autonomy to conduct their work in the way they see fit. And one tool that can’t be emphasized enough is a well-designed communication platform.
By giving employees a communication platform to contribute, companies can improve employee experience and in turn, increase engagement, reduce turnover and become better places to work. The past decade has seen companies embracing bottom-up and lateral communication, collaboration and co-creation. As a coach, I appreciate this shift from command and control leadership to a greater emphasis on servant leadership.
When I am consulting on employee experience and communication, what I find most often is team members at all levels feeling they lack a “voice” at work. No matter our rank, we humans need our opinions and ideas (about the work and how the work gets done) to be heard and given consideration.
Here’s a great example of how bottom-up communication saved the Air Force two years of work and almost $20 million.
Case Study: AFWERKS
In 2015, Tony Perez was working as a KC 10 refueling pilot at Travis Air Force base near Sacramento. He saw projects put on the back burner that wouldn’t be solved for years. He also knew others at the base looked at these unsolved projects similarly to the way he did: as a challenge to be accomplished.
Perez took action and spearheaded an opt-in internal incubator to give all Air Force ranks the opportunity to identify and solve problems they currently didn’t have the time or expertise to work on themselves. By putting heads together week after week, the group gained momentum on a number of projects.
One of Spark’s biggest accomplishments was creating a custom iPad mount for the C 17, a plane that was designed before the iPad was invented. The mount project was originally estimated to require two to three years of work and $20 million. Instead, it was completed by a Spark team in three weeks and saved the Air Force tens of millions of dollars.
Spark was able to have such promising results because the people who were working close to the problem were able to be a part of the solution. Not only did this program save money but it gave a group of volunteer, self-motivated team members an opportunity to work on something they found personally impactful. This is a prime example of bottom up communication at work.
Communication platforms as a solution
There have been numerous products developed to solve this dilemma between the amount of time it takes to make employees ideas actionable.
Culture Amp and 15Five are two software solutions gaining popularity due to their simplicity (most take less than 20 minutes per week) in collecting, analyzing and acting on employee feedback. By de-personalizing and using these kinds of tools (we all know it’s easier to write a comment than to say something in person), leaders can get more consistent and transparent input from their teams.
Slack and Zoom have also been launched into the spotlight amidst the COVID pandemic. These are powerful resources, as long as you use them effectively. Lesser-known tools like Notion, Miro, Mural and Figma are also quickly being adopted by tech and product teams for real-time collaboration.
Given the simplicity of these tools, expect these to become commonplace for companies looking to create intranets and empower individuals to share knowledge and work together.
Traditional platforms re-imagined
Here are some more classic options that are still powerful:
Knowledge Shares – It’s useful to know what people outside of your department do all day, and how their job function fits into the bigger picture of their company. Here’s one idea: Get people who don’t normally work together on a video chat. Ask one person to share the following:
- 5-10 minutes about their job at the company (how it works, how it serves the bigger picture)
- 3-5 minutes about a problem they are facing at work
- 10-15 minutes to get input from participants (may include tools or strategies, questions that help the presenter re-frame the problem in their mind)
If your team is a big group, ask participants to give their input via that chat function of Zoom or Hangouts. If you’re a smaller group, have people virtually raise their hand. After 30 minutes of back and forth knowledge sharing, people know one another better, know the roles at the company better and have crowd-sourced ideas for a problem that ultimately affects them all.
Invite outside team members
Open up your meetings to people who normally wouldn’t be invited to your weekly virtual standup or project kickoff.
Joseph Master, Assistant Vice President of marketing and digital strategy at Drexel University in Philadelphia, makes a good point about the power of meetings to cross-pollinate in a large organization to improve KPIs and inspire:
“While we work in top-down silos, our team meetings are opportunities to communicate across borders and build the organizational tethers we need— marketing teams should meet with enrollment management, admissions, academic advising and academic affairs regularly. By inviting advising staff to our team meetings, we were able to access data we didn’t know existed and ramp up our undergraduate admissions efforts — which led to increased enrollment.”
Opening your meetings to others not only fosters collaboration, but it might be some of the best internal PR you do for your staff. It’s as much a communications tool as it is a team builder. When others see what your employees actually do, they’re more likely to invest in them as strategic partners. For your next weekly meeting, who could join that might benefit from seeing how things work?
Lead by example
Leaders must participate in these team building activities and show their commitment. They cannot expect others to adopt new tools or practices without seeing those in charge do the same.
If your team chooses to use Culture Amp or 15Five, be sure managers are given the time and resources needed to use these tools properly. Praise those who use it well (not just managers) and most importantly share the stories of how these tools and open communication platforms have benefited the company and its people.
At last year’s Culture Summit, one speaker said, “To argue with someone’s point of view is a waste of time. To embrace it is a way to co-create.”
Leaders who give employees a voice, lead by example and offer encouragement may be rewarded with better ideas, money saved and more happy, engaged team members eagerly awaiting the next challenge to overcome.