The useful office network “pen pals”

Entrepreneur Aitekin Tank explains why it’s important to strengthen ties between departments.

Years ago I corresponded with a friend from Connecticut, even before I entered the local college. A mutual friend introduced us while I was still living in my native Turkey. At that time I was thinking about studying abroad, I dreamed of getting a degree in computer science from the University of Bridgeport.

The friend I corresponded with was doing a major completely unrelated to my field of interest, but we had the most interesting conversations. The very fact that we were from different cultures and different walks of life helped both of us change our worldviews.

Now, years later, I often think about how much that experience helped me understand an unusual way of looking at things. Therefore, as the CEO of a company, I find it important to create opportunities for “pen pals” from different departments to connect and encourage greater openness in the workplace.

I pride myself on creating a culture of inclusion and diversity, but I realize that doesn’t mean much if people don’t learn from each other. As Tessa Ann Taylor wrote for the New York Times, “The first step to harnessing the power of a diverse team is, of course, to invite unique personalities to the negotiating table, but the work doesn’t end there.

Once people are seated at the table, it is important to create an inclusive environment where they can share their thoughts and views,” Taylor writes. So I would like to share some of the lessons I learned from this collaboration.

The benefits of branching connections in the workplace

Relationships between different teams are key to creating better communication and alignment across your company. One of my best employees, who worked in Marketing, Maggie, for example, was struggling to understand the technology behind a new product we were developing.

“Honestly, I don’t understand how these features work,” she told me after the meeting. After her conclusion, I immediately put her in touch with one of our developers. Not only did this help to “brainstorm” her work, but both team members were able to absorb and learn new things from the other person’s skills.

Diversify the conversation

“It’s worth noting that while diversity and inclusion best practices are designed to help people from underrepresented groups, they benefit everyone and build a stronger team as a whole,” Taylor wrote.

As was the case with my own “pen pal” experience many years ago, communicating with team members from different departments with different backgrounds is not limited to mastering a certain professional specialty, but opens up new and interesting opportunities for communication.

Ultimately, developing this practice changes your overall communication culture in the office, because people are not afraid to ask colleagues in other departments for help or assistance, which later creates conditions for more autonomy. Such communication is necessary to maintain long-term communication.

Keep in mind that the well-coordinated work of each of the departments – IT, marketing, design, sales, and customer service – will significantly affect the success of your company. According to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace 2022 report, workplace engagement remains flat. But I believe that by diversifying the conversation with specific practices, such as “pen pals” between departments, one can move forward more confidently.

Encourage innovative thinking

When employees are not engaged, it not only hurts productivity but also reduces innovation. Why? Because connecting with people from different sectors stimulates communication and creativity. Creating “Pend-Pends” between departments can improve employee skills. They learn to solve problems with other experts, as creative ideas often come from different, fresh perspectives.

While many leaders focus on team-building exercises to encourage more innovative thinking, having a friend from another department is an easy way to increase information and knowledge sharing. The resulting teams become more agile and feel more committed to the company’s goals.

The goal is continuous growth and learning. I’m happy to report that after a few months of talking with her fellow developer from another department, Maggie not only gained a better understanding of the technology behind our latest product but also learned a lot more about what’s behind the concept of IT.

“It used to be very difficult,” she confided to me one day over lunch. “But then something just dawned on me.” (She is, after all, a marketer, not a technology specialist.) Not only did she now feel more confident in her tasks, but she was ecstatic about the new opportunities for our future projects.

I’m a strong supporter of internal company collaboration for one simple reason – it encourages ideas and helps build team spirit. In addition to promoting the pen pal format, my business works with small cross-functional teams where each group is like its own small business. People are independent and have the right to make their own decisions while working on the same project at the same time.

Over the past 16 years, we’ve transformed the company from a startup to a global business with millions of users and hundreds of employees. And during this time, I became convinced that such a structure allows team members to become more engaged, and engaged and feel more involved in the work as a whole.

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George Brown

George Brown is a lecturer in project management and Agile practices and is the author of the articles on this educational website.

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