Tearing down silos .. one lunch at a time

Do silos in your organization fail you? The solution could be as simple as getting employees to meet and talk with each other. This is the advice that Mark Gumz, CEO of Olympus has to offer (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/13/business/13corner.html). “Tearing down the silos” sounds like a grand gesture, but it may start with a lunch.

In his own words, “I don’t allow people to eat their lunch at their desk. You have to go to the cafe. I want you to take a break and talk to other people in the company. It’ll be the rule as long as I’m the C.E.O.”

Now more than ever the power of networking is being recognized. Strong relationships are the basis for successful businesses, organizations and for personal (career) growth alike. As Keith Ferrazi states in his book, Never Eat Alone “Your network is your net worth” .

Gumz takes to this to heart when he says “…you have tables where you tell people where they’re going to sit — they don’t sit with the people they work with because you want them to meet new people. …it’s incredible what happens when people start to talk to other people in the business. We’re starting to see people moving around in the company — that’s how you build careers for people. I think that’s how a company becomes stronger and stronger, and that’s how passion is developed… And if you do it often enough, people feel comfortable with trying new ideas.”

We share the same ideas as Gumz. Go ahead and spotlunch next time. You might be on your way to breaking a silo!

A case for face-to-face

Can everyone on earth meet each other? Absolutely a tall order. How about beginning with meeting your neighbors? Or may be colleagues? You never know, you might find something in common… something that we can all share… it could be to collaborate on an idea or meet an important contact .. or may be to get that referral or just to share a  funny story.

Psychologists affirm that  humans are hard-wired for social interaction. A research published in the online journal, Public Library of Science One shows that twins start communicating as embryos as early as 14 weeks into the pregnancy.

Getting out and meeting people is known to have proven health benefits as well

Networking experts would say – get to know as many people as you can.  So, meeting people is good for you. But why is it becoming difficult?

In one sense, though we are living in an increasingly connected world, we are more disconnected than we have ever been. Technology demands a lot of our time and we tend to hide behind it.  Social networking sites like Facebook are great to keep in touch with our existing friends and sharing pictures; however they take away from valuable face-to-face human interaction.

Time is at a premium. We are constantly trying to manage time between job, family, career and other commitments.

In addition making new friends takes a little initiative. It takes some courage to make that new connection and find someone with common interests. This may not come instinctively to all.

Can these barriers be overcome?

We cannot lengthen our day. But we could find a convenient time. Everyone has to eat lunch (yes… there maybe exceptions). Could we transform lunch into something more? An opportunity to make new contacts face-to-face.

There is no way we can magically increase peoples’ unwillingness to make the first connection. But we could utilize technology to help make it easy by finding the right match. This will also increase the possibility of building a strong relationship.

The bigger solution lies in activating our inherent need for social interaction, which goes back to our ancestors who would sit around a fire to share a meal or a story.

There may be times when these basic instincts are subdued. We see instances where technology drives us in directions that are alien to human instincts. But eventually we find our way back. Examples include the shift from mass farming to organic farming and the trend of people biking to work while their cars are parked at home.

This might be the time to curb the virtual experience and take back the virtues of real face-to-face interaction between people.

Organizations, especially in the knowledge based areas, can largely benefit from these interactions. More collaboration often translates to more productivity and innovation, which is the life blood of any modern organization.

In a 2009 global survey of 2,211 Harvard Business Review subscribers, 95 percent of respondents viewed in-person meetings as a key to success in building long-term relationships. Specifically, face-to-face meetings were seen as most effective for negotiating important contracts, interviewing senior staff for key positions, and understanding and listening to important customers.

Helping people meet face-to-face and build strong relationships is a win-win formula for individuals as well as organizations.

Our hope is to make this easier and fun.

We present spotlunch.