Over the last few years, many old-school views of corporate communication and hierarchy have been overturned and continue to be scrutinized.
Leaders are less likely to hide behind closed doors and are now embracing open office concepts designed to promote more immediate, small scale, random collaboration.
In the past, employees would wait for meetings to interact with colleagues. Now meetings, like email, are considered the plague of office life. These are being replaced with more progressive and agile processes like standing, cross-functional meetings called “scrums”. The social technology we use in our personal lives is being adapted for the enterprise. Software like Yammer, SalesForce Chatter, Jive, and the recent darling, Slack is transforming how we communicate in the workplace.
These technologies have been successful because they address a fundamental need – the need for people to communicate with the people they work with. More so, the need for fast and easy access to information, feedback, and to others. While these tools allow for more open communication across all levels of hierarchy and across silos, this capability hasn’t been fully realized yet.
In Deloitte’s Human Capital Trends report for 2016, highlights that 92% of leaders rate organizational redesign as a critical priority. After years of struggling to drive employee engagement and retention, improve leadership, and build a meaningful culture, executives see a need to redesign the organization itself. The “new organization,” is built around highly empowered teams, driven by a new model of management.
What does this new model of management look like? It requires a better ability to collaborate vertically through the organization.
What is Vertical Collaboration?
Collaboration is two or more people working together towards a shared goal. Vertical collaboration then is the ability for people who make decisions to work together with frontline employees towards a shared goal. Effectively, there is an element of co-creation between head office and the front lines. Or, put another way, it connects strategy with execution.
Many organizations have a few people making decisions in head office and a large number of people performing the work based on these decisions. Perhaps there are 150 people in head office and 3,000 people on the front lines. Let’s indulge this oversimplification.
How does a large number of frontline workers not just communicate, but collaborate with head office?
Often, they don’t because, at scale, this is a tricky problem to solve. With so many frontline workers, and head office having so little time, what often happens is that head office does its thing, frontline workers do their thing – and the two operate somewhat independently.
What’s needed for vertical collaboration
1. First, for an organization to collaborate vertically, you need a desire and recognition from leadership that changing how collaboration happens through hierarchy needs to change.
2. Second, once the organization takes a stance that collaborating across the hierarchy is valuable, the next step is to provide people with the tools necessary to take on this change. Empower your teams with collaboration and productivity software like video conferencing tools, meeting management, idea management and automated timesheets.
3. Finally, like all new things, the desired behavior needs to be reinforced throughout the workplace. It must become part of the culture and “how we do business.” It must become a habit at all levels of the organization.
The leaders of today can’t be expected to make perfect decisions about things that happen in the trenches they don’t occupy. Likewise, the employees of today can’t be expected to stick around and work for a company that doesn’t show a genuine interest in adapting based on the insights of people closest to the work.
A company that performs below its potential will be a company where the employees think the plan is flawed because it was written by someone without their input.
A company that performs to its potential is one where plans are created and work is executed incorporating the best from all parts of the organization, especially up and down.