8 Strategies to Move from "Me" to "We"

From India to Idaho, the common talent management challenge is: how do we create a sense of "we" in organizations? Many companies are spread across the world, are under pressure to cut costs, increase revenue, and often operate as siloed divisions. This issue is beyond "engagement." It is a question of unity, or: "How do we create the feeling that we are all in this together?"

Here are 8 practical strategies that I know are successful:

1. Bring teams together to facilitate knowledge sharing.

I was chatting on LinkedIn with Mehul Mehta, a HR Lead at Xcelris Labs in India, when he told me about a program he started in his biotech firm to address this issue. It is called "Me to We". This is where I came up with the idea and title for this article. In Mehta's organization, they have monthly sessions for employees to come forward and share what they learned from their fellow team members and appreciate it in the open forum. Why? The teams are highly interdependent. Taking people out of their individual teams, and bringing them together to focus on knowledge sharing, creates an increased awareness of how each team impacts the others. They are gaining a larger sense of "we," beyond their job and their own team.

2. Create dialogue sessions to discuss business issues and challenges

Employees will feel a part of the "we" if you include them in the business. I don't mean just high level platitudes-- but really, what is happening and why.

Mike Nestor, Head of Change at Bayer, uses this approach to create team spirit. "When we are rolling out changes in teams or divisions, we hold dialogue sessions where the strategy is discussed in detail, with data showing why this strategy was chosen. External market conditions, actions from competitors, internal pressures and shareholder expectations are all discussed," says Nestor. "Significant time is devoted to dialogue where employees and leaders share perspectives and in some cases personal feelings (passions, fears, concerns, opportunities)." This involvement and education leaves employees feeling part of the team, because they are!

3. Let team members select those who join the team.

One of my clients, Merrimack Pharmaceuticals in Cambridge, MA, designed their organization around intact teams.

Andy Porter, V.P. of Human Resources said, "We have seen excellent results using the power of small teams focused on a specific goal. A key to this success is creating a true team; a team where each member is helping the other members succeed. To this end, we initiated a unique selection process where team members interview and select their new team mates. This creates a true commitment to each other."

4. Talk in terms of "we," "us," and "team".

As a team leader, your words make a huge difference. How you talk about the team, impacts the team. Jerry Ganguzza, Service Manager of Skyline Exhibits of Los Angeles, knew the power of this. When he came on board, he noticed a disconnect between sales and service. There was a lack of trust and no camaraderie. Working on 2 separate floors, but feeling miles apart, Jerry decided to start calling both groups "Team LA".

"Immediately, there was a sense of shared responsibility for our sales and service functions," said Jerry. Simple, but it works.

5. Get together face-to-face

Virtual communication only goes so far! To create a deep sense of team, you need to meet the whole, physical person. This doesn’t mean everyone in the company needs to meet everyone else. However, people who work together will feel more united as part of the same team when they actuallymeet.

Despite the tough economy, one of my clients, a leading global mining company, did not cut back on flying people to centralized training. In fact, they increased it. They have seen the benefits over the years of having people who work on global initiatives actually meet each other face-to-face. People feel more connected and build stronger relationships, which then enable higher productivity back in the office.

6. Push information out.

This is what Allen Dye, VP of Sales at Corporate Floors does. "With a remote sales team, I'm much more conscious to communicate what's going on within our organization by sharing wins, ideas and best practices," says Dye. "It sounds simple, and it is. Sometimes it's via e-mail and sometimes it's through a personal phone call. It keeps people feeling in the loop."

7. Involve the team in setting organizational direction

Most of us know the old adage: people are committed to solutions they develop. This is particularly true when you are a new leader and team members are hundreds of miles apart.

Marc Chasin, M.D., SVP & Chief Medical Information Officer St. Luke's Health System knew this as well. When he started his new role a few months ago, he had a new team, spread across the state of Idaho. How was he going to get them to gel as a team? What he did and continues to do is solicit and incorporate the team’s opinions/suggestions into the departmental overall vision and direction for the department.

8. Rotate responsibility across the team

While working with an executive team of a New York City Government Agency to improve their teamwork, I realized one of their problems was their weekly meeting. The leader felt that the team was not taking initiative. The team felt like the leader was overbearing. A simple approach they came up with was to share responsibility. Each of the 6 leaders takes a turn at gathering the issues that need to be addressed at the meeting. They also rotate minute-taking. This simple process has dramatically improved the success of the meeting. It is no longer thought of as "her meeting" but has morphed into "our meeting".

Being part of a team is something that people can sense and feel. You can’t demand it or enforce it. It has to happen organically and come from the people. Using these 8 strategies will help create the environment where people feel they are part of something larger than themselves and increase their level of commitment to your organization.