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Sunday, June 9, 2013

Breaking Organizational Walls 06-09

Breaking Organizational Walls

In my recent post about career mistakes, I shared the importance of connecting across organization levels and removing the barriers of intimidation between executives and the broader teams.
The absolute best ideas and thoughts in an organization emerge from those that are on the front lines. Unfortunately these insights often get diluted or lost as they travel up the chain. The front lines know when products are running behind, if the quality is on track or if there are other issues that need course corrections, more so than management and often more accurately then the formal status processes. Most companies have several different mechanisms to ensure better communication and tighter management for this reason.
I have adopted several techniques to create a structure, process and environment where there is far more organic and native connection between teams and management layers. The most important characteristic to doing this right is accessibility. Being available and connecting with the front lines in a genuine and authentic way is the key to success. The dividends in doing this right are incalculable for any leader regardless of where they sit in an organization.
There are two practices that I have adopted that have helped me with stronger bonds with my own teams. One is a tactic that’s been around for decades, the other a bit newer:
Office Hours
One of my first jobs at my university was as a teaching assistant (TA) and as most TA’s do, I held office hours where students could come in and ask questions about recent lectures, have me review their work, or just talk through an idea they had that may not have much at all to do with the course curriculum. I always found this time valuable and enriching for myself as well as the students, which is why as a manager at Microsoft I instituted office hours once again. I found them to be extremely valuable to build relationships across the team regardless of level. I just decided to implement them again at EA as well for the same reason. I now set aside a few hours per week on my calendar for 1:1 meetings that are open to anyone in my company (direct reports excluded because they already have standing meetings).
In my experience, I love when people come to me with projects that don’t have to do with our day-to-day responsibilities. It gives me a chance to step away from my regular role, roll up my sleeves and think about technology solutions. It gives me insight into the passions of my colleagues. It’s an opportunity to strip away the job titles and just have an enlightening conversation that sparks creativity and innovation.
However, when I was a junior-level employee, I was intimidated by the higher-ups or the corner office. Holding office hours may not attract someone who is more shy and doesn’t want to request a 1:1 meeting.
Social Networks
Taking a page from the success social media for personal use, I recently adopted an enterprise social network to create a real-time, organic connection in my organization. I wrote about this in an earlier post on Millennials. The first few months of using the ESN has been extremely valuable. I often post pictures from meetings I go too, carry out live AMA with the team, conduct polls and most importantly have a real dialog with those in the organization who know the most about a given topic. Recently I was confronted with a decision to approve the use of a new technology for one of our most high profile games. I had my reservations that the technology would reap rewards for our dev teams. I did my homework, read up on the technology, went deep into the design and still had doubts – so I posted the question on our ESN and asked the broader team to share their opinions and experiences with the software (whether they were connected to the project or not). Turns out, many colleagues agreed with me – those who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to weigh in on this type of decision. In the end, I rejected the proposal because of this additional value and insight I got from asking for feedback.
Breaking organizational walls in a company, whether by being accessible via office hours or creating a comfortable environment to talk and discuss hard problems online is key to building a healthy work environment and breaking down those walls.
What are your thoughts on this approach – would you take advantage of office hours? If so, what would you want to discuss? Have you tried an ESN at your workplace? I’d love to hear what’s work best for you to facilitate this type of communication.

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