How a Culture of Collaboration Expanded Our Reach

Written by Debra BenAvram on December 15, 2016

When I am interviewing potential new employees, I like to show them our version of a staff chart.

I am always met with surprise. “This doesn’t look like the traditional box and line drawing that I usually see.”

And that’s because it isn’t.

When I first took over the position of CEO at the American Society for Parenteral & Enteral Nutrition, I knew that my main focus was going to be about fostering a strong, positive company culture.

That is because you can do amazing things when your team is living its values, but you need to make sure there is constant engagement with them.

One of the first things I did was draw a graphical representation of the value system and culture I hoped to create, which we call the circle model. It is different from a staff chart because all of the positions and ribbons interconnect in a relatively silo-less non-hierarchal manner.

I show this to new employees coming in because I want them to immediately understand how we function as a team, and that life here might not look like it does in other organizations.

And one of the ways we function is by not only encouraging, but really requiring, constant communication and collaboration between departments.

Early on in my tenure here, as an initiative for an upcoming conference, we assigned teams the task of finding revenue opportunities and making a presentation in an area of the conference they weren’t usually responsible for. For example, marketing might have done something related to saving money on registration costs, while the research team might have made a presentation on how to market more effectively. They were asked to look at things outside of their scope.

It really got people understanding that all hands are on deck, and that everyone’s ideas matter – and not just in their own domains. And we got some great new ideas out of the exercise.

This has really paid off in the form of creative new ideas.

One of my favorite examples of our circle model in action came out of an initiative called Malnutrition Awareness Week. 1 in 3 hospital patients in the United States is malnourished, which is a major tragedy because it can have severe impacts on health.

Malnutrition Awareness Week is a way for us to push communication and education about feeding patients.

A couple of years ago, another organization called our office and asked one of our staff members if they could use the name of our event, which is trademarked.

This is when the circle kicked into motion.

Instead of simply answering, the person brought the question to the inter-departmental team that was involved in the program. Again, rather than just answering yes or no, they all put their heads together to turn this into an opportunity.

From this discussion our new supporter program was created, which allowed other non-profit organizations to sign on as partners. We didn’t charge them, as the whole point was to increase awareness of malnutrition.

This was a very important mark of our culture because the initial person who was asked the question didn’t keep it within a silo – they used critical thinking skills and understood that there could be implications well beyond one team. When the team grabbed hold, the group looked beyond the actual question asked to the opportunity at hand. And, in turn, a massive scope expansion was created by not answering a yes or no question. This past year, 34 organizations from around the world have signed with us to address malnutrition in hospitalized patients.

For example, the National Council on Aging joined, which is a major organization that we typically do not partner with. Their involvement alone led to 2 million impressions. We increased our exposure by leaps and bounds, and it all began with a phone call.

When major wins like these happen, we like to celebrate and showcase them. This further boosts team morale, and solidifies the culture that we’ve worked so hard to create.

Written by Debra BenAvram on December 15, 2016
Article Type: Inspiration
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