By: Chris White, managing director of the University of Michigan's Center for Positive Organizations
Are you looking for research-based ways to increase quality, efficiency, financial, safety, customer engagement, and worker well-being? Perhaps even enhance learning and innovation? What could be the fuel that facilitates these diverse and important outcomes?
When we think about ways to improve, we often look at what things we can do additionally. However, fewer of us take a close look at how we do it.
Jody Hoffer Gitell has been studying how we can work better together for her whole career. Jody calls it Relational Coordination: a mutually reinforcing process of communicating and relating for the purpose of task integration. "Basically", says Hoffer Gitell, "it's a relational dynamic that individuals, teams and organizations use to coordinate their work to achieve desired performance outcomes."
Many people would consider things like "relationship dynamics" to be an art rather than a science. But Hoffer Gitell is absolutely putting rigor into our understanding of these processes. At Brandeis University's Heller School for Social Policy and Management, Professor Hoffer Gitell is Executive Director of the Relational Coordination Research Collaborative and author of Transforming Relationships for High Performance.
For leaders seeking to kickstart a higher level of relational coordination, Hoffer Gitell recommends three things:
1) Align. Seek to identify and develop shared goals where possible even when some goals are in conflict.
Here at the Center for Positive Organizations, we have recently started implementing a Kick Off protocol for our projects. In this, the project manager leads all those who will be involved in making a project successful through a conversation to get alignment on several important dimensions. Firstly, purpose and goals. What is the purpose of our Center? What is the purpose of this particular project, as relates to this overarching purpose? What do we want to learn? What is our shared vision of greatness? Secondly, roles. Who will contribute what to the success of the project? Thirdly, process. How will we check in with each other to make sure that we stay on track? The answers are developed together in conversation, and written up as a shared charter for the team.
2) Listen. Seek to understand the expertise and perspective of other roles, and help them to understand yours.
At Menlo Innovations, a member of the Consortium of Positive Organizations, software programmers work in pairs on coding projects. Pairing combinations are rotated often, so people are compelled to learn from others on a daily basis. Pairs share out their learning points and challenges daily - as a pair - at a morning stand up meeting. They incorporate a bit of fun and symbolism into the process by using a Viking helmet to physically join the two team members! This way of working means that team members cannot help but learn from each other. Failing to learn from each other would mean being unable to deliver on a project, given the highly institutionalized relational coordination at Menlo.
3) Respect. Find a way to feel and show respect for other roles, and expect respect for your own.
At Zingerman's, teams end meetings with appreciations. "Appreciations can be of anything or anyone; in the room or not in the room; work-related or not; past, present or future. No one is required to say anything, but most people usually do. This one small systemic change has made a huge impact over the years," writes co-founder Ari Weinzweig. "Think of it like ending a meal with a good cup of coffee; because every meeting ends with them, people almost always return to the organizational world with positive feelings. Its regularity disciplines us to devote time and mental energy to positive recognition."
Align, listen, respect. Build relational coordination and build a positive organization. What else are you doing to help your team work better together?