Why Does it Take a Crisis to Get Everyone Working Together?

It’s one of the biggest challenges facing business, one that must cost millions, if not billions, in lost revenues and inefficiencies every year.

I’ve often said that I see more competition than collaboration inside organisations of all sizes. Silos are a massive headache for business leaders with teams building walls around themselves internally, failing to support other parts of the same organisation or to refer new opportunities elsewhere because they don’t feel recognised for it.

It’s something I talk about in ‘Connected Leadership‘, where I talk about the need to find a ‘What’s in it for me’ factor to encourage support from different parts of your organisation and the role strong relationships across the business play in making that happen.

It’s also something that Heidi Grant references in her excellent book ‘Reinforcements‘. Grant talks about creating ‘shared goals’ to ‘foster helpfulness among your whole team or organisation’ in her passage on the importance of group identity to drive people’s motivation to support others.

This seems to be happening in the National Health Service in the UK at the moment. A few days ago I was speaking to a client of mine who works in the Healthcare sector. He told me that an NHS doctor had delivered a presentation to his team recently and had explained how the usual silos and inefficiencies in his Primary Care Trust had collapsed in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis. Everyone was doing whatever was needed to pull together to achieve their common goal – to get through this crisis as effectively and as safely as possible. He was witnessing a level of collaboration far beyond the norm.

I spoke to a good friend of mine, the speaker Steve Head, who I know has worked with thousands of healthcare practices over the past eighteen years and is very busy supporting NHS trusts as they begin the recovery and restoration phase from Covid-19. I asked Steve whether he has seen the same collapse of organisational silos.

Steve told me, “It’s been interesting. The NHS has always struggled with capacity with not enough staff, too much to do and a prevailing attitude of sticking to areas of personal responsibility getting in the way of working together.

“Over the last couple of months, Covid has forced a single focus – Save Lives. I believe it has created a ‘Why?’ A single purpose that has led to the red tape, in many cases, disintegrating.

“Staff have been moved from their normal role to support the COVID effort.  I had a chief nurse tell me that she had never seen in her forty years so much kindness, support and willingness to help.

“In one trust, finance staff were making masks; people have been wearing the same scrubs, rather than the colour coded system to donate status. Consultants and junior doctors are seen alike, the hierarchy has been minimised with everyone feeling equally valued.”

This shared experience has brought people together and set aside self-interest for the common goal. As a result, resources are being implemented more efficiently and results are outstanding.

But how do we learn from this and ensure collaboration as we come out of the lockdown and, hopefully, start to see a return to something we might recognise as normality? We can’t rely on crises to get people to pull together.

Steve told me that he sees this as a big challenge for the NHS going forward. What can they take from this to maintain this “amazing camaraderie as we return to the next normal”?

In ‘Connected Leadership’ I urge leaders to establish relationship-driven cultures. I believe that this lies at the heart of ensuring strong collaboration and minimal silos. Match this with Heidi Grant’s ‘Shared goals’ and maybe we’ll get closer.

We won’t replicate the team effort you get in a crisis like a pandemic and I’m not sure how sustainable that is over the long-term, given the energy and adrenaline invested in the response. But equally we need to move away from an approach that believes that a team-building day once a year is enough.


Connected Leadership book cover

Download a free chapter of ‘Connected Leadership’. The paperback edition of the book is published on 15th July