An article about the importance of networking. from 2022 has recently captured our attention. The author Lynda Gratton highlights the importance of network connections in an increasingly hybrid world of interaction. The content dives into explaining the difference between explicit knowledge (written knowledge that is easy to absorb and access) and tacit knowledge (which is inherent insights and know-how that exist in team members’ minds).

One of the key areas of the article is about how the COVID pandemic has had a profound impact on these knowledge areas and the relationships with team members. COVID increased team member isolation and in some ways increased the close relationships that already existed both personally and professionally. At the same time, broader relationships with coworkers who were not a core part of a team members’ inner network eroded.

In essence, the work from home model indirectly killed water cooler moments, because it was almost impossible to just run into work colleagues when working from a home office.

For those people who remember office environments (the pros and cons), being able to connect with people from other departments, before or after a meeting in person, turned into some of the most valuable connection points and indirect learning opportunities. Those connections helped with a broader understanding of the company and other teams, helped boost company culture, and were a great way to see the opportunities and challenges that existed outside of your own part of the organization. A person from Operations, for example, might learn about and connect with someone in Sales — even though their job responsibilities didn’t overlap.

The reality for most working professionals is that the time spent in a physical office surrounded by co-workers on a regular basis is something from the past. Younger generations entering the job market don’t even understand what that model of the past looked like. So, as a leader, how do we recapture some of those networking connections internally and recreate water cooler moments in a hybrid world?

IDEA #1: Schedule cross functional team check in meetings on a monthly basis.

These meetings should have a business purpose, and not just be social. However, the indirect purpose of the meeting is to gather people together who might normally not interact and collaborate, and allow for organic learning. Topics for the meeting might be something like “Customer Insights” when a Product Team meets with a Customer Success Team. Or it could be “Q3/Q4 Marketing Plans” when the Marketing Team meets with Finance.

TIP: In these meetings, you as a leader should encourage broad level participation and include opportunities for everyone to ask questions. These organic conversations are the start of water cooler moments.

IDEA #2: Encourage follow up conversations for subsets of the group.

During these cross-functional check in meetings, when you see some team members who are questioning/interacting with each other, encourage them to continue that conversation in a deeper level outside of the current meeting. For example, you might say “Thanks Jay for the insight on customers experiencing billing challenges. Rachael, since you were curious about this issue, could you connect with Jay after this call and dig into some options for future solutions? You can bring those ideas back to our team and Jay can do the same as needed for his team.”

TIP: Remember, there is just as much personal connection value in having Jay and Rachael connect on their own as there is in finding solutions for billing challenges.

IDEA #3: Explore in-person cross-functional meetings on a semi-annual basis.

Corporate Path Leadership recognizes that time is at premium and budgets are limited. However, we highly recommend that teams take the initiative to determine if cross-functional teams can gather for a specific business purpose at least once or twice each year.

TIP: During these meetings, allow for multiple breaks to give attendees an opportunity to get to know other ancillary coworkers better and use breakout sessions to encourage a diversity of ideas and interactions.

With this approach, we can take back the positive aspects of the water cooler with a few easy steps. We’d love to hear your ideas as well on how your teams are making the most of expanded connections in a remote working environment.

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