A couple of years ago, my company hired a communications expert to host a company-wide workshop. About a month after the workshop, she returned to provide a debriefing on the event. Curious, I asked her, “What did you think?” Her response surprised me.
“I was really impressed with your employees’ engagement in the event and how much they care about the culture and the company. However, I did notice a theme amongst much of your team. There appeared to be an ‘us versus them’ mentality,” said Christina Harbridge. “If I could recommend one area for you to work on this year, it is to get your team to become one unit, not underwriters versus sales, or vice versa.”
She then came up with ideas about how to fix the fragments that existed in the company. There needed to be more personalization in the group, for instance, to foster empathy between the different departments.
I thanked her very much. Our conversation made me realize how the mortgage industry breeds an innate “us versus them” mentality. I have seen it everywhere I've ever worked: loan officers versus processing and underwriting; brokers against underwriting; operations sellers competing with correspondent underwriting and quality control. It is the age-old story of sales versus back office, and this causes people to take sides and not appreciate one another’s working roles.
The Departmental Debacle
In sales, we feel the need to push to make things happen, while in operations, we preach the need to protect the company. I believe it is this mentality that, if left unchecked, can bring about much of the anguish and heartache that the mortgage industry has become notorious for in the past.
To add another layer to the problem, the company has experienced unprecedented growth. What started as an office of 40 employees now stands at about 400 team members across the nation, many of whom work remotely. Not exactly the easiest recipe for creating a workforce that’s on the same page. I suspect this is where much of the “us versus them” mentality arises – from simple miscommunication.
Some time after that conversation, I found myself looking to other companies that were standouts in their respective industries for excellent employee relations. I looked to the zany, personalized culture at Pandora and the notorious Ritz-Carlton huddles. We’re a huge core value company, so Zappos, in particular, stood out to me as a company with employees who are representative of its principles. Zappos has also had great success when faced with the adversity of quickly scaling while maintaining a happy workforce.
Putting New Practices Into Place
We began implementing a few different systems to keep the team running in the same direction. I collaborated with one of our leadership trainers who firmly believes that trust is built through fun. Again, it’s difficult to do when people are spread out, so it was absolutely necessary that communication be built into our solution.
We introduced a really robust newsletter, affectionately called The Pink Unicorn. This is where I share my thoughts and ideas with the team for the issues we are working together to overcome. We try to keep The Pink Unicorn as personalized as possible to serve as an inspiration for all employees. Accolades are awarded, and team members are encouraged to submit personal reflections, recipes, poetry and new of important life events.
Sometimes we’ll get sales and operations employees to jump on calls together, thus removing the silos that can de-personalize a company and breed resentment among the team members. We also send care packages to our dedicated staff who work out of their homes. When team members relate to one other, they appreciate each other. Team members across the country can buy each other lunch with a system we have called YouEarnedIt.
It took time, but we’ve seen a large improvement in how team members work with one another. This experience has made me more aware than ever that there is no one concrete formula for implementing change of this scale. Rather, it is totally dependent on multiple layers of complexity within the organization, and these are almost always changing. It turns out that the best organizations ultimately spring from a foundation of people connecting on an interpersonal level and understanding one another. If I have any advice for other organizations dealing with similar change, it’s to constantly reevaluate your organization and graciously accept input from your team as to how you can make it better.
Read more about building a collaborative team here on Tech.Co