Forget Building Corporate Culture. Your True Office Secret Weapon is Workflow.

Teams are made of people, and people make mistakes. The key to getting everyone to cooperate effectively is building out a workflow for all important tasks.

Businessmen meeting in the boardroom with presentation (Photo by Fairfax Media via Getty Images via Getty Images)

Imagine you’re biking to work in busy traffic when, suddenly, you hit a pothole. Your bike abruptly flies out of control, and you slam into the car driving next to you. Assuming no one is seriously injured, the most likely thing you’ll feel, after shock and relief, is anger. But who will be the recipient of your frustration: the driver of the car that got in your way or the pothole? Who’s really at fault here? 

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The fact is, the pothole is to blame. But you’re more likely to take out your anger on the driver, and they may reciprocate, creating a back-and-forth exchange of who’s to blame. When unexpected accidents happen and emotions run high, it’s easy for humans to turn on each other. 

And it’s no different with workplace teams. 

When a website goes down, or part of it breaks, who gets the blame? Marketing will likely blame IT, and IT will likely blame marketing thanks to the kind of turf wars I’ve seen time and time again with web teams. 

As the leader of a WebOps SaaS platform provider, I’ve worked with thousands of website teams and have seen first-hand how the majority are rife with debilitating trust issues that can easily lay waste to plans, budgets and creative output due to a lack of alignment. Research has shown that collaboration is the single biggest obstacle for web teams. And as turf wars obliterate trust, and each team retreats to toil away in isolation, the resulting dynamic makes it difficult to do great work. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Many companies turn to culture-building to boost collaboration among web teams – and while this may be an important part of the mix, particularly as hybrid and remote work create siloes, I believe there’s another essential component that often gets overlooked: workflows. 

Workflows not only systematize the work that needs to get done, but they also take the pressure off teams to build the kind of trusted relationships required to collaborate effectively. Workflows essentially remove the human element from the equation, so teams can do their jobs without emotions getting in the way. Here are three reasons every organization needs workflows for better collaboration.

Workflows let humans be human

Let’s face it, we humans are flawed. We make mistakes. We build imperfect products. Sometimes we forget to do our tasks. Oftentimes we move into new roles without documenting the work we’ve done. And occasionally our emotions can get in the way of effectiveness. 

Unfortunately the cost of an error, an omission—or even a single typo in code—can be high. Literally millions of dollars may be at stake.

Workflows help to solve these challenges. They systematize and automate tasks, and reduce human error and emotion. You can’t force people to trust one another and get along. But you can radically reduce the potential damage by creating workflows that direct the work that gets done and enforce checks and balances along the way. 

Workflows force good habits

Anyone who works in software development knows that bugs are part of the development process. Before SaaS products and agile development revolutionized technical processes, the majority of software innovation projects were actually considered failures

One study of over 1,400 IT projects found that nearly a fifth were considered ‘black swans’ – code for catastrophic failure. Some IT project failures have even lead to the company’s ultimate demise

Gartner studied more than 50 projects that experienced complete failure, and boiled it down to a project team’s inability to make good decisions. Yet this is where workflows shine. They eliminate the need for traditional decision-making processes by building a course of action right into the development process. Essentially, they force good habits – whether it’s timely updates or thorough quality checks before a new release – so aligning teams on who’s responsible for what is simply a matter of following the prompts. You no longer have to worry about accidents because the system self-heals.

The best development processes enable teams to create workflows that suit them, and then encode them into the software. Want to remember to follow up on unpaid invoices, for example? Bill.com has an automated workflow for that. Want to collect leads through your website and nurture them with automated emails? Hubspot has a workflow for that. And the same principles apply to website development.

Workflows enable creativity at scale

During my days as a consultant, I would often go into organizations where marketing and development teams were literally at war. To ease the strife, I would start by creating a list of requirements that everyone had to agree on. From there, we could build those requirements right into the system so that everyone got exactly what they needed and could focus their energies on doing the work they love rather than fighting for what they need.

Change is hard, but once you systematize the process, work becomes infinitely easier – and scalable. This is particularly true of large organizations that operate numerous sub-companies, like O2E Brands. They’ve eliminated hundreds of hours of manual website maintenance, downtime issues and system updates by building a system of workflows. The fact is, you simply can’t scale website development without them – no matter how strong your workplace culture.

Culture can help people see the value of collaboration, but workflows are necessary to enable it. Invest in good digital infrastructure, and watch as the conflicts that erode trust go away.

Forget Building Corporate Culture. Your True Office Secret Weapon is Workflow.