Connected teams are a powerful driving force any business can have. In fact, it is not even that difficult to achieve, even though it requires a little work and some resourcefulness. Most of all, it requires a lot of understanding of how coworkers connect with each other, what it means for the company, and how managers can help form connections that thrive and last.
In this article, we’re discussing several points:
- What team connectivity is;
- What are the benefits of connecting your teams;
- How human capital and social capital play into connectivity, and
- Practical advice for improved connectivity.
Table of contents:
- On team connectivity
- Why should you work on forming good team connections?
- What makes connected teams work
- How to connect people or improve existing connectivity
- To summarize
On team connectivity
Well-connected teams can be the key to success. But as remote work and distributed teams gain traction, the only connectedness we’ve focused on revolves around which communication tool our companies should use. Of course, communication channels are important, but we seem to have zoned in on providing proper tools and then letting employees “naturally” seek each other out.
As it turns out, they actually need a little help from their managers and team leads.
HR departments and agencies have long been scrambling for answers on what makes teams connect to each other, and how to achieve a cohesive network of knowledge and skills that will push a company forward. Some people work better together, others cause more friction, and whatever information and knowledge get transferred, seems to be very selective and in between unrelated employee cliques.
This greatly hinders progress, and potentially costs you the necessary growth.
Why should you work on forming good team connections?
There are numerous benefits beneath the surface. Let’s take a look at what the workforce looks like today, and the reasons why large corporations are working to adapt to it.
The modern workplace is a network of teams
In an article for Forbes magazine, Josh Bersin wrote about the “networks of teams”, a relatively new phenomenon borne from the digital workplace. He discussed how businesses nowadays operate in teams, rather than through a hierarchy of departments.
He gives the example of Uber. The company’s higher-ups don’t get involved with each state and city down to the most minute detail. In each city, they have managers who form networks of marketing agencies, operation leaders, local business partners, and so on. Each management network works independently, but communicates and shares information with others.
IT companies work in much the same way. Each department is equally important, and none of them is above the other.
This is what Bersin believes brought on the disruption in the way work is organized. Without the power brought on by the position, he asks, how do we streamline people and have them listen to each other, talk, and share the collective resources?
The secret lies in forming these networks of teams. Teams connected in a way that makes them productive and efficient, while also helping their personal career development.
The benefits of team connectivity
What does “good” connectivity even mean?
Is it when people within teams and between teams have good chemistry, so they get more work done?
Is it enhanced efficiency, better office communication, or something entirely different?
We’d like to argue that good connections elevate both those connected and the company they work for. The company reaps benefits in:
- More streamlined communication;
- Faster, more creative problem-solving;
- Improved team coordination;
- Less wasted time;
- Increased overall job satisfaction;
- Fewer turnovers.
While the employees:
- Gain new skillsets;
- Improve communication/leadership skills;
- Have greater job satisfaction;
- Have a chance at a career advancement;
- Less likely to burn out;
- Possibility of new friendships outside of work.
Put briefly, to know that a connection between two employees or teams has potential, it needs to check off three boxes:
- It benefits the parties involved
- It helps the managers streamline and coordinate
- It brings value to the company
Leave out any of the three, and the connection can’t be seen as “good”.
But before you start connecting teams, you want to make sure that the teams themselves function properly. Otherwise, they fall apart before you even begin connecting them. Here are some guides on team development and maintenance:
- The 5 stages of group development
- How to create and promote teamwork in the workplace
- Managing virtual teams
- Managing multicultural teams
Now, let’s see what you can do to make team connections that matter.
What makes connected teams work
In this section, we’ll dive into the key aspects of good team connectivity and how you can use that knowledge in practice.
Social capital and human capital
To know how to connect your teams in a valuable, beneficial way, we need to understand the importance of human capital and social capital.
Human capital is the economic value an employee brings to the table with their skills, knowledge, and education. We hire and promote people based on their human capital. We assign them projects, tasks, and clients, with this value in mind. Lastly, managers invest in human capital by providing books, resources, sending employees to conferences, courses, and so on.
But as a value, the human capital is just one part of the equation. By knowing the skillsets, strengths, and weaknesses of your employees, you can make a more informed decision on who will be the other part of the equation.
Social capital is the value brought on by connected employees. Their joint effectiveness, pooling of resources, skills, and knowledge. Within a company, positive social capital makes for effective teams: they communicate better and clearer, share the same values, methods and goals, etc.
So, to get good social capital, you need to have experienced, skilled individuals connected in the most compatible way.
💡 Our tip: How to track employee performance shows you how to accurately assess each employee’s skills, productivity, and efficiency.
When social and human capital work together
A very clear case can be made for our argument on human and social capital as the two pillars.
In his paper titled Managing the Connected Organization, organizational network expert Valdis E. Krebs listed a few simple examples.
- For project managers, social capital is integral in improving their effectiveness on a project. With a better network inside and outside of the company, they are able to gather enough knowledge to get the job done quicker or solve problems more easily. For every instance of their project, they have a pool of knowledge to choose from.
- For teams, being directly or indirectly connected with different project teams can get them the information or skills they need. Good connections within a team form a knowledge base that works in one specific area. But connections with other teams (directly or indirectly) will give teams the opportunity to transfer that knowledge, adopt new skills, and reach information faster.
However, Krebs adds that in most cases, organizations have very poor networks. As people begin to work on projects, they do form strong connections and add to the social capital – but to their own team. Connections to other project teams are significantly weaker, if existing at all. He concludes this becomes a sad reality of teams being unaware of just how much help and resources are at their fingertips.
An employee usually has one or two direct connections, and their direct connection (an indirect one). The more connections beyond that, the more they fade away. For example, John from customer service will have heard about Anna Peterson from the design team, but he won’t exactly know or care about her project or skills.
So, does that mean that every team member should be familiar with every other member of a different team and know what their projects are about?
No, and here’s why.
Quality vs quantity
In the same paper, Krebs argues that even if connections between teams can grow weak, there is no reason to force strong connections between everyone. A fewer number of direct connections and some indirect connections are much better, and easier to handle.
The image below illustrates the Krebs’ point.
Source: Valdis E. Krebs
The graphic shows a network of connections between teams on a project.
We may think that Team F or team Q have the best connections and the most social capital, as they have access to five other teams’ resources. However, these five direct connections make them overburdened with resources. How?
Team F has direct links to teams A, B, C, D, E, F, and N. They have one indirect connection to team O. If they want to reach information from team T…. well, you see where it gets messy.
In fact, team O is in the best position, with only three direct connections. Because they lead them to resources of the majority of other teams in just two steps, where team F needs four, five, or more. But then again, they also need more steps to reach team T. So the network itself is, again, imperfect.
You can try it for yourself: which teams need to be connected, for them to need fewer steps to the resource pool?
What does the network of connections teach us?
Again we conclude that fewer, quality direct connections and several indirect ones lead to more efficient networks. That means endorsing collaboration and matchmaking employees whose skill sets aren’t the same but complement one another.
And if you’re wondering how the farthest indirect connections reach one another’s resources, it’s usually through emailing presentations or reports, or previous client/customer experiences.
Even something simple as water cooler conversations work – an employee will potentially share a successful team strategy, which their conversational partner (the indirect connection) will be able to recall and implement in their team’s time of need.
How to connect people or improve existing connectivity
And so, to form meaningful connections that make companies and their employees flourish, you’ll need to introduce changes. No step is too small when it comes to creating functional networks.
Here is a list of dos and don’ts that will come in handy, despite the company’s size or the industry you’re in.
- DO work off of existing connections
Find out who works with whom already, or which groups they belong to. Krebs and his associates formulated an excellent survey that explores precisely this.
A survey like this will reveal pre-existing connections, and give you an idea of how the teams work at the moment.
- DO analyze your current organization for weak spots or missing links
From the survey, you can identify pockets of knowledge that are unused or gaps in communication. This leads to the process of forming the complex picture of your teams’ interconnectedness and how it can be improved. Depending on the size of the company, as well as the industry itself, the results can be vastly different.
- DO revise, reanalyze and readapt the network
Follow the connections closely as time goes by. If possible, conduct peer reviews like the one above, or assign performance scores. Chances are that despite all the effort, your first network of team connections will be far from ideal. But practice makes it perfect.
- DO emphasize the importance of transparency
Naturally, when employees share information about one another’s projects, they will be aware of what is happening company-wide. However, it’s always good to set up a system where people can freely check what other teams are working on, without the need to contact their coworkers directly. Project team timesheets are one simple and easy way of establishing a straightforward system. Not only will team members see how far off the project is, but other teams can find out what their coworkers are working on.
An example of a timesheet in Clockify
💡 You can find more on team transparency here: Transparent and accountable teams
- DO streamline the communication channels
Speaking of communication – provide your employees with all the possible channels they may need. We’ve mentioned that indirect connections communicate mainly through emails, sharing projects, and experiences via technology rather than direct knowledge transfer.
Similarly, brainstorming sessions and meetings should follow a schedule and a timeframe. If the people involved in them are well-connected, this shouldn’t be an issue.
- DO try to eliminate, or at least reduce insecurity
This brings us back to the human capital: When individuals know how their skills contribute to the team and the company when they know what the goals and values are, they will form good connections more easily. Teams should know about the company’s goals, values, mission, and where it’s headed in the next five years. Vagueness leads to a lack of direction.
- DO reward efforts to share skills and knowledge
There is hardly a better way to support employees connecting with each other than by recognizing and rewarding good practices. Commend them individually and publicly when they share skills and transfer knowledge. Organize celebratory meet-ups or breaks for casual hangouts whenever there’s a job well done.
- DO be mindful when you’re switching employees between teams
Even though you connect teams in a certain way, that doesn’t mean it is how they will remain. Certain projects may demand employee transfers, promotions as well. And when you decide to transfer someone from one team to another, look at how it could affect the entire network. There could be overlaps that can increase connectivity, but new gaps can form, as well.
- DO work with HR on improving connectivity and networking
It would be best to switch up the way your HR and recruitment hire new workers. Aside from looking for the best, investigate how they connect with others, ask about previous experiences. As for the currently employed, the HR department and managers should work side by side at all times.
- Don’t connect too many teams
Multiple indirect connections with a few direct ones work better because direct connections can provide solid information, and point to other indirect ones. Too many direct connections cause an overflow of information.
- Don’t force people to work together
While connectivity is important, especially today with remote work growing in demand, don’t “force feed” it. These connections need to come as naturally as possible, and they also depend on the chemistry of the employees. Who they are as people, not just based on their skillset.
- Don’t lose focus of the individual benefits
The whole idea of social capital brought on by good connections between teams is that individuals within them benefit as well. If one loses sight of that, they risk seeing their employees as assets and not people. Connect them to each other in such a way that the collaboration benefits their personal growth as well.
- Don’t rely on knowledge bases
Since knowledge transfer happens mostly between direct connections, two distant indirect connections usually rely on knowledge bases to get their information. This is a modern, digital-age solution, especially for large companies. However, knowledge bases can go out of date, be poorly edited, and even neglected or forgotten.
Investing in interconnectivity and fluidity of information sharing will benefit more than storing said information in a fixed archive.
- Don’t focus only on top performers
When you see that a specific connection cluster (or network) isn’t working out, work on finding a solution, rather than “nipping it in the bud”. Some people will adapt more quickly, form connections more easily. And while it is praise-worthy, doing so too often can cause insecurities with others. Keep your focus on the entirety of the network and stay vigilant.
- Don’t gatekeep any information
Good connectivity is based on trust, as well. When all information is accessible, and there is no impression of “things going on behind closed doors”, there’s less doubt. Less office gossip, and buildup of mistrust.
Team connectivity comes from more than just providing appropriate communication channels and knowledge bases. It is more than setting up two teams on a project, giving them enough resources, rolling the dice to see if they give good results. Team connectivity starts with managers understanding how human and social capital work, especially in the modern workplace. We operate in a digital world that rewards innovation, resourcefulness, and creativity, which can no longer be achieved through the hierarchical distribution of power. CEOs, managers and HR departments need to form complex networks of teams that complement one another, support one another, and learn from one another. Because, if the individual thrives in the work environment, so does the company.