‘Enhancing team-to-team cooperation is a first step to becoming a more agile, flexible, and responsive organisation’

December 24, 2022

This month, Kate Sweeney, who leads Deloitte’s Future of Work initiative in the UK, discusses how the best businesses build collaboration into their work practices and how that culture is led from the top…

How vital is it for organisations to encourage team-to-team cooperation?

Team-to-team cooperation and collaboration is critical to enable organisations to achieve their outcomes.

Fostering team-to-team cooperation is particularly key for larger organisations, which inherently have a greater structural distance between individuals, and for businesses organised in traditional functional structures.

Beyond productivity and engagement, effective team-to-team cooperation reduces the chances of unproductive work and duplication of effort, and enhances trust, progress, and growth. In a nutshell, it creates a strong sense of employee belonging because ultimately, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

However, we believe that the most effective organisations have changed the way that they think about and design teams, so that cooperation is embedded in the heart of their ways of working. These businesses start with the strategic business outcomes they need to achieve and create multidisciplinary teams that bring together the different skills, capabilities and disciplines required to deliver against each outcome. Collaboration is a fundamental design principle of these teams.

Enhancing team-to-team cooperation is a first and powerful step to becoming a more agile, flexible, and responsive organisation.

Is the input of senior leaders like the CEO essential for encouraging team-to-team cooperation? Are there any circumstances where you think it can develop naturally between teams without some sort of leadership buy-in?

Typically, it is the behaviour of the senior leaders that drives the culture that defines an organisation. Leaders who are committed to a collaborative culture find opportunities to talk passionately about it every day. They have personal and clear stories about the impact of collaboration and why team-to-team cooperation is critical for their business. They also have a low tolerance of people who are not behaving collaboratively and, most importantly, they walk their talk!

The best team-to-team cooperation works bottom up, where teams form organically to solve business problems.

However, it is very difficult for this organic forming, and dissolving of, teams to occur in an environment where the ‘tone from the top’ is not reinforcing cooperative behaviours. As humans, our natural tendencies are to focus on our self-interests. We see very few situations where collaboration develops naturally, without strong encouragement and role modelling from the CEO and top team.

Working with leaders to increase their level of self-awareness around the impact their behaviours have on the culture of collaboration is a key part of the journey.

Which initiatives and incentives – including team-centric rather than individual appraisals, inter-company professional and social networks, and bonuses – provide the best means of encouraging team-to-team cooperation?

Structures, policies, procedures, and incentives are all a reflection of the value systems of the current leaders, and the institutional legacy of past leaders.

Driving team-to-team cooperation requires a comprehensive review across all elements of the organisation, including strategy, leadership behaviours, market narrative, employee networks and talent processes to ensure that all the indicators that tell your people what is important – i.e., the mindsets and behaviours that matter for your organisation’s success – are aligned. Bonuses are only one of many indicators.

For example, one critical task for a leader aiming to encourage collaboration is to review who you hire, fire, and promote. That sends a very strong signal about what behaviours are acceptable and should be encouraged, and what behaviours are unacceptable and should be discouraged. If you are trying to move away from silos and reinforce cooperative behaviours, start by actively promoting the individuals/leaders in your team who go out of their way to collaborate, lift others up and bring other teams in, rather than promoting those focused on strengthening their own ‘empires’.

You can also run behavioural change campaigns that kick start new habits in your workplace, and make it fun, through gamification, awards, etc.

How can team-to-team cooperation be effectively measured? Are there particular deliverables – such as increased productivity or employee retention/engagement – which provide a good marker?

Ultimately, the real measure of success is whether you have delivered the strategic business outcomes identified. This is the purpose of the team-to-team cooperation.

If you are clear on your business outcomes and can foster the critical collaborative behaviours required to deliver them, then you should see increased productivity, profits, and employee satisfaction scores. It’s likely this will be coupled with a decrease in attrition rates, as a more collegial organisation is usually one that inspires and retains talent in a more compelling way.

From a more technical perspective, you would want to see a decrease in ‘entropy’, i.e., the level of energy ‘leakage’ in the organisation – which is as a direct result of competitive behaviours and silo mentality being replaced with collaborative and cooperative behaviours and attitudes. We work with cultural assessment tools that help measure and track this for our clients, so we can tangibly baseline this measure at the start of our transformation journey, and see the evolution unfold as leaders drive new behaviours.