I was recently asked to put together a game plan for how a company could foster better team work between departments.  Here’s what I found out.

What Other Companies Do:

Time Warner – Share success stories at employee events.

Entrepreneur Mouli Cohen: Put aside political correctness and get at the real issues.

GE– Lengthened coffee breaks to encourage honest and casual conversation.

Zappos – All new hires spend two weeks taking customer calls in the call center.

Best Buy – Uses Marcus Buckingham’s “Now Discover Your Strengths”. The book and personality assessment gives  employees a language for personality quirks and why they’re important.

Imagination Ltd. – No idea is a bad idea.


  • Create a physical (not computer) bulletin board where people can post articles on teamwork.
  • “Write a story” of how the team meets an outrageous goal – have each person contribute a line.  Make each line an expansive, creative idea. (No need to be practical.)
  • Have a “talent” bucket, so people can exchange teaching/learning; golf, cooking, guitar, etc.
  • Start team meetings with a 10-minute ice breaker.
  • Go through an afternoon of Improv acting training: “Yes, and,” “Elevate, explore.” (Dudley Riggs)
  • Go through 1-2 hours of “Art of Connection” training with Sage Presence.
  • Have each department create a mixed music-track for the other departments. (Each can have a different theme.)
  • Create a department “holiday” or “awards show” that showcases the year’s best accomplishments/challenges overcome.
  • Create an “impossible” hypothetical departmental challenge  that will take a quarter to solve. Have people post their ideas, no matter how unpractical. Share the ideas at a team meeting.
  • Talk about the creative process: define, design, develop, deliver.  Why is it important to go in sequence and which part does each department play?
  • Review what team “morale killers” can be and identify them as “sludge.” Let people know it’s ok to say, “No sludge!” if you hear it.
  • Have each department bring an insight into what teamwork is and how to foster it to a brainstorm session.
  • Allow “toys” at the office, like a Nerf basketball hoop.
  • Get a scooter.
  • Have people interview each other with Vanity Fair interview questions. Have the interviewer introduce the other person at a meeting.
  • Take a benchmark survey to find out whether employees think things are collaborative now.  Compare a year from now.
  • Show how each quirky personality strength helps balances someone else’s. (Some people are good big picture thinkers, others are detail oriented.) (Gallup/Buckingham Strengths Finder)

Additional Resources for Creating a Team-Oriented Work Environment:

Dudley Riggs – Teaching the Improv acting art of “yes, and” and “elevate, explore” to enhance dialogue, team interaction and thinking on your feet. http://www.bravenewworkshop.com/creativeoutreach/home.aspx

Sage Presence – Teaching the art of connection to enhance sales, public speaking, and relationships. http://www.sagepresence.com/

TED series 20 minute videos by inspiring experts on creativity, innovation, collaboration and more.

Marcus Buckingham, “Now Discover Your Strengths” (book)

Benjamin Zander: On “Giving an A” Books and videos.

Culture questions

From: About.com

  • What would you tell a friend about your organization if he or she was about to start working here?
  • What is the one thing you would most like to change about this organization?
  • Who is a hero around here? Why?
  • What is your favorite characteristic that is present in your company?
  • What kinds of people fail in your organization?
  • What is your favorite question to ask a candidate for a job in your company?
  • Are there any current barriers to collaboration? What?