By Mehmet Baha

It is a typical business day for a marketing professional. She arrives in the office, turns on her computer ready to use a special software to do her work. “Your software license is expired. Please contact the sales team of the software company.” is the message she sees. Frustrated, she immediately contacts the sales team of the software company to have the software license extended. She urgently needs to access the software. After receiving the call of the customer, the sales team member immediately rushes to an employee in the production department, who is in charge of both the hardware and software license extension. The production team member does not understand why the software extension should be done very fast. He has other priorities at work. 

Actually, the software is developed by software engineers. Software license extension can only be done, once customers make the payment of license extension. Finance team is in charge of the payments. Then, software licence extension is done by employees in the production team. Sales teams are responsible for maintaining contact with customers and sending them the link of software license extension. Extending software licences of customers can be a stressful situation for employees in different departments of the software company. The software engineers do not know the process of software license extension. Employees in the production team do not see license extension as a high priority issue. Sales, finance, software and production team members do not have good relations with each other and are not synchronised. This is a typical example of a structural hole in an organisation where I worked before. Having structural holes can have a negative impact on employee engagement, customer experience and business results. 

Below you can see four insights and suggestions to minimize structural holes and synchronize brains and hearts on a team. 

Multiplex ties: Sociologist coined the term multiplexity, which means you can have more than one type of relationship with others. For instance, a person can be both your work colleague and a player in your tennis team, in addition to being the parent of a kid who goes to the same school as your kid. Multiplexity keeps people living in very small villages together, because your family members, your neighbors, your religious group members are also the same people you do business with. When our team member is also our friend, this might create nepotism in the workplace. For instance, employees who are friends and smoke together outside might present new opportunities to each other while others can be excluded from these opportunities. On the other hand, when employees cannot tolerate each other at work, are not interested in forming meaningful relationships with each other and do not attend social events of their companies, this creates a huge barrier to achieving team collaboration. Based on my work experience, employees with multiplex ties to each other provide much more benefits to any organisation than employees without multiplex ties. In his book “Friend of a Friend” David Burkus makes the point that the more multiplex ties we have, the more trust we tend to develop in a relationship. This allows employees to synchronise their efforts to achieve business results. 

Practice: Create opportunities for employees to get to know each other personally and to be friends with each other. 

Rotation: In order to decrease structural holes, “you do not need to know everyone in each team. Know at least someone in teams you collaborate with.” writes Burkus. One global company I worked at sends for a short time some of its European employees periodically to its US headquarters. This way, European employees can develop relationships with their US counterparts, understand how the US team works and collaborate better with them, when employees go back to Europe. Research by Ronald Burt shows that brokers, who discuss ideas with individuals from other groups in an organisation, are more likely to have valuable ideas for improvement. This practice also helps synchronise brains on a team by connecting different employees.

Practice: Allow employees to work for a short time in other teams/offices so that they can develop relationships, understand how others work and collaborate better with them.

Synchronous activities: In his latest book “When: The scientific secrets of perfect timing”,

Daniel Pink dedicates a whole chapter to the topic of synchronisation. “Human beings rarely go it alone. Much of what we do—at work, at school, and at home—we do in concert with other people. Our ability to survive, even to live, depends on our capacity to coordinate with others in and across time.” writes Pink. Additionally, he emphasizes that teams should synchronize on three levels, namely to the leader, to the tribe and to the heart. He then mentions two scientific studies to make his point. Children playing a rhythm clap and tap game are more likely to help peers than others who played a non-synchronous game. Also, swinging in time with another child increases the possibility to collaborate. Synchronising with others feels good and deepens attachment. After doing synchronous activities, employees can be encouraged to act in concert with each other at work.

Practice: Choose events for your team where team members can synchronize with each other. For instance, run together, join a yoga class, drum together, meditate in a group or row together.

Sense of purpose: “Having a sense of purpose activates the brain’s reward center just like music and food do.” states Srini Pillay, a leading expert in brain-based leadership development. According to Dan Cable, in order to develop feelings of sense of purpose, employees should see their impact on customers and develop their own story about the why of their work. In one study, a group of fundraisers at a non-profit organisation met with a student who had received a scholarship thanks to fundraising campaigns. The scholarship student told fundraisers how grateful he was for the scholarship. Another group of fundraisers from the same non-profit did not meet with a scholarship student and continued their duties as usual. One month later, the first group raised 171% more money than the other group who did not meet a scholarship student. This is based on the research of Adam Grant, best-selling author and professor at Wharton. The first group had a higher sense of purpose and felt this in an emotional manner by meeting with the scholarship student. Without sharing the same sense of purpose, it can be more difficult for team members to act in a synchronised manner.

Practice: Help employees see the impact of their work on others. For instance, invite key customers to talk about how their lives are positively impacted by employees’ work.

Now think about your team. What ideas would help synchronize employees’ brains & hearts on a team and achieve outstanding team collaboration?

About the Author

Mehmet Baha is Founder of Solution Folder which provides training solutions to create collaborative work culture in companies. He has more than 16 years of work experience residing in Germany, USA, Turkey, Cyprus and Ireland. He was one of the first employees of Facebook in Europe where he helped Facebook scale its business. He is also a REMO-endorsed artist. Combining his skills in music and his expertise in business, he designs and delivers unique learning experiences to improve collaboration in workplaces.