Four Ways to Accomplish Greater Things With Others

Become an opportunity maker who enables others to use best talents together, more often, and you will become increasingly sought-after. Here are four proven methods to adapt to your situation.

2014-09-16-worknextes.jpeg1. Pair Up To Cut Down Silos And To Scale Performance

"For a week or a month, two co-workers sit next to each other at their computers and work on a major assignment. This happens through the company. Employees are paired up with different people over time. According Sam McNerney, that's how Menlo Innovations' CEO Rich Sheridan overcomes what he dubs the 'Towers of Knowledge' problem, where knowledge is siloed and skills are not redundant.

Tip: Adapt project pairing in your business, membership group or other organization to:

• Facilitate cross-training in a fast, fun way.

• Enable people in different parts of the organization to get to know more people in meaningful ways.

• Enable individuals to learn how to train newcomers.

• Prevent the organization from being hamstrung when one expert leaves.

• Cultivate collaboration, camaraderie, capacity to work through stress and friction, and opportunities for more ideas to bubble up as individuals mix it up more often via pairing.

2. How Musical Chairs Can Foster Mutuality

At the evolving Downtown Project in Las Vegas, Tony Hsieh purposefully assigns parking spaces that are at least a block from where employees work to spur "collisions," meaning serendipitous meetings between individuals. Also, some startups and technology firms are periodically moving employees around so they sit next to different people.

Why? "A worker's immediate neighbors account for 40% to 60% of every interaction that worker has during the workday, from face-to-face chats to e-mail messages. There's only a 5% to 10% chance employees are interacting with someone two rows away," according to Ben Waber of Sociometric Solutions.

His firm uses sensors to analyze interaction patterns at work. Waber concludes, "If I keep the org chart the same but change where you sit, it is going to massively change everything." See what happened at Kayak, Hubspot and other firms that played musical chairs. "Grouping workers by department can foster focus and efficiency," discovered MIT's Christian Catalini, yet "Mixing them up can lead to experimentation and the potential for breakthrough ideas."

"The community stagnates without the impulse of the individual. The impulse dies away without the sympathy of the community." - William James

3. Bungee Into Productively Engaging With Others

It costs companies one-fifth of an employee's annual salary to replace a worker who leaves, according to a 2012 study by the Center for American Progress think tank.

Tip: To foster retention and happy involvement in any kind of paid or volunteer work, arrange for people to collaborate in small groups and periodically switch groups and their roles within them. That way they can explore new sides of one another and "keep partnerships fresh like a healthy marriage," discovered Stanford sociologist Daniel McFarland, who also found a second benefit: rotating leadership roles helps everyone involved learn new skills.

Google encourages employees to take "bungee" assignments for three months to one year in different areas of the company. That way they gain new skills and find out whether they like a new job (or are good at it) before committing to it. "Most staffers return to their original jobs with new knowledge and experiences to share with their workmates, ideally fostering new energy into their collaborations, creativity within their original groups and job satisfaction for themselves," concluded McFarland.

Also, after tracking the pattern of enduring faculty collaborations of newly hired, non-tenured faculty members over a 15-year period, McFarland found that the enduring ones happen where collaborators find or develop new points of complement.

"The surviving personal ties are those with a degree of similarity so we can communicate but a degree of difference so we can plumb the relationship for additional value and skills one of us may not yet possess," McFarland says.

Ongoing collaboration, mutual mentoring and other kinds of mutual support feel productive and satisfying. Yet periodically seek a new sweet spot of shared interest to keep the relationship thriving like a healthy marriage.

Notice how open and proactive your partner(s) are to seeking renewed complements, and around what topics so you can see if they still match your priorities.

4. Set The Scene For Deeper Sharing

As McFarland said, "Cocktail parties encourage people to meet one another and expand their networks, but it takes retreats and team-building exercises to encourage trust, communication, and interdependence among group members. It also requires a willingness to rotate your expertise and roles in relationships, so that you can learn new sides to one another and engage in fresh experiences."

Also, have your organization host both internal-only and also by-invitation events that involve employees or members and potentially complementary individuals from outside the organization. Design some of those events for faster matchups for individuals with shared interests to discover each other.

• Use a two-step "lean-then-loose" approach to an event to optimize attendees' chances for making meaningful connections:

Part One, Lean: In a ballroom, host a speed consulting or a speed "find the sweet spot" round table or a "Meet the Pros" roundtable. In the roundtables format, attendees sign up for seats at a table, in two rounds. For the "Sweet Spot" approach, a facilitator at each table guides participants in finding their strongest shared interest. For "Meet the Pros," popularized by the National Speakers Association, each table has an expert who responds to questions.

Part Two, Loose: Host a cocktail hour or buffet meal where participants can mix and mingle to have follow-up discussions with those whose interests they share.

Hint: In all these methods, cultivating a mutuality mindset will mean success.