How DIS-TRAN fosters a culture of internal collaboration

"When you need to innovate, you need collaboration.” – Marissa Mayer, former CEO of Yahoo!

Collaboration is powerful; teams of people working together can often conquer otherwise insurmountable problems. Industry analysts at advisory firm McKinsey and Company offer a great illustration of this principle:

“In the petrochemical business, avoiding downtime is critical given the magnitude of its investment in fixed assets. Solving problems quickly often requires collaboration across disciplines.”

They then describe a company that focused on fostering collaboration and sharing best practices. The results speak for themselves: “One [internal collaborative] network alone contributed $5 million in savings.”

Wow! Yet, collaboration doesn’t necessarily come easily. In fact, workers will sometimes even actively resist it. As The Harvard Business Review writes, “Specialists resist collaboration when their careers are built on niche expertise.”

At DIS-TRAN, we believe firmly in the power of collaboration to drive efficiency and fuel innovation. Many of our standout products and best internal practices were born when we asked how we could better align different teams, or when our brightest minds came together to tackle a customer challenge.

To that end, we use a variety of strategies to fuel internal collaboration and teamwork.

For one, we organize leadership development programs that push participants to better understand and interact with other business segments. Our Rising Stars program is a great example. Rising Stars brings people from all over the company together in a learning environment led by Louisiana State University. “It was a good team-building exercise,” says our Factory Built Substations Sales Manager, Dan Rice, who participated in the program. “Going through the different exercises with your colleagues gets you outside of your comfort zone.”

Dan describes how the program helped him and other participants to gain more awareness of the corporate side of the company, outside of his own normal day-to-day duties.

Similarly, Scott Russell, DIS-TRAN’s Substation Design Manager, participated in another leadership development program that promoted interaction with and across different business units. “It was valuable to get a deeper understanding of how people outside your department function.” He describes meetings and lunches where colleagues from different parts of the organization could just bounce ideas off each other and share best practices.

The results of these kinds of interactions are manifold.

As Dan says, our people are better equipped to step back and see the bigger picture rather than getting mired down in their own day-to-day functions. This, in turn, helps our team members to understand how their ideas and suggestions would impact DIS-TRAN and its business objectives as a whole, outside of their own individual areas.

Then, it can be equally helpful to make improvements gleaned from others within one’s own role.

Scott indicates that you can improve your own processes when you’ve seen how others handle certain challenges, like strategies for training new hires. In this way, collaboration and teamwork enables our people to learn better strategies for success and avoid repeating mistakes.

Another pro-collaboration tactic includes building purpose-driven inter-departmental teams.

Consider our new EPC Support Team. It started when DIS-TRAN identified an area where we can improve our efforts and asking ourselves how teamwork can make for better work. As we wrote last September in “The Story Behind DIS-TRAN’s new EPC Support Team,” our Proposal Group wasn’t seeing the results with EPC customers that it wanted. “We realized we needed the increased focus of a dedicated team,” says David Ducote, who heads DIS-TRAN’s proposal department. But rather than creating yet another siloed department, split off from the others, we approached the project differently. We pulled people from within both the Proposal and Project Management departments. By closely aligning the two groups, we found a better way to serve our EPC clients.

Internal collaboration is key to achieving results that are greater than the sum of the parts of the solution. That’s exactly why, as Scott says, “We've made a point to bridge that isolation or communication gap that's been there in the past and really work altogether as one big team.”