In her inaugural Living Your Best Compliance Life column, Mary Shirley shares tried-and-true methods for building deep connections on your compliance team — even if you’re not even in the same country.
Welcome to the inaugural Living Your Best Compliance Life column. In my new monthly series for CCI, I’ll be exploring the landscape of life as a compliance practitioner – from substantive topics to the softer side of life in the compliance department. Buckle up for regulatory guidance, case settlements and loads of practical ideas to level-up your compliance program and your career – plus how to equip yourself with the skills needed for professional (and occasionally personal) success.
And you can bet that I’ll be listening to my readers, too. Requests for focus areas? Suggestions or feedback? Join the conversation and drop me a line.
Now that you know what you’ve metaphorically signed up for by reading this far (and by the way, be sure to sign up for CCI’s weekly newsletter to get the week’s top news and opinion delivered right to your inbox), let’s turn to today’s topic: three ways to get to know new colleagues, increase morale and bond with your team in a remote environment.
Note that each idea can be replicated for compliance teams that are back in the office or at department retreat/symposium events. As many of us continue to work from home, it’s important to understand how the changing work environment affects our team members.
Getting to know you, getting to know all about you
In October 2020, I moved from the Fresenius Medical Care North America business to a global compliance role in the company. Although the move was internal, my new team was composed of colleagues I didn’t know very well – or at all. I was conscious of the fact that when they applied to work at the company, they had made their decision to accept their offers based on working for other supervisors.
That’s a huge part of what influences an individual whether to take a job. I was domiciled on another continent and was time zones away from my reports in the Frankfurt area. But even if I lived just down the road from the office, the raging pandemic meant we were confined to our homes. I needed to replicate the getting-to-know-each-other and bonding that occurs organically when crossing paths in the office or at team lunches and after-work drinks.
I came up with a temporary run of virtual team get-togethers that placed the focus on each team member, one at a time. In the lead-up to each person’s focus session, they would share with everyone else what their favorite foods and drinks are, and from that list, each member would select some of the preferred snacks to enjoy during the virtual meeting to help get to know each other’s tastes (literally) and give a party feel to the event.
One of my team members, Jasper, is originally from the Netherlands. Jasper told us about Dutch chocolate sprinkles, and thanks to Amazon, I was able to join a celebration of Jasper with real-deal Dutch sprinkles. Armed with our food and drink, we engaged in an “Ask me anything” session and found that we very quickly learned more interesting and unexpected things about each other in a short time compared with what you learn incidentally at after-work drinks.
I’m going to continue this approach when transitioning into new roles, even if I’m sitting in the same office as my new colleagues in the future. It was a great way to cement relationships, discover passions outside of work and learn about preferred working styles. (Don’t lead a team yourself yet but like the sound of this? Suggest it to your boss and file it away for when you’re a manager.)
The maximizer exercise
When it comes to performance reviews and performance management, we tend to focus on our weaknesses and gaps; I love the term “areas of opportunity” to refer to things that we could improve on. While we do make mention of positives, it’s often just that — a mere mention.
This activity asks you to channel the Gant strength of “Maximizer” and focus on your strengths, identifying them with the help of those around you and then working on them to take yourself from good to great.
Explain the exercise to your team and ask each individual to drop a personal note to every other member of the team, telling the recipient what their super-strengths are. This will allow team members to identify areas they can explore further to truly excel and bring a sense of joy to each person who gets the feel-good factor of hearing what others love about them to help build morale in the team.
When I did this exercise with my team, I sent out my messages immediately just so everyone could envisage what the notes would look like.
Times are tough universally. It kind of feels like the world is on fire, doesn’t it? Now more than ever, we could do with a kind word to bring a smile to the faces of our colleagues and allow them to leverage their strengths even better.
Creating cross-functional teams within your compliance department
One of the more outside-the-box initiatives I’m fond of comes from a former boss, Lisa Estrada. This gem works particularly well in larger compliance functions to build teams within a department. Our specific example was creating a marketing team within the compliance department.
This team worked on elements affecting compliance department reputation, outreach and advocacy, and awareness. The marketing team was tasked with annual Compliance Week events. It also led a mission statement exercise and worked on branding, including establishing department colors. In order to incentivize people to participate in these “add-on” responsibilities, involvement in a cross-pollinated team was included in the department’s performance review goals and objectives.
The marketing team is but one focus area for a cross-pollinated team. You could also set up a committee that focuses on professional development opportunities for the department: arranging guest speakers, identifying and communicating about educational resources, administering budget requests for conferences, obtaining opportunities for team members to speak at conferences, podcasts, webinars and more. Whatever you might need that could be a teamwork project, think about whether it warrants pulling together a cross-pollinated team.
While most people hate working in siloes, the fact of the matter is that in large teams, you don’t always get exposure to every person in the department. Cross-functional teams can be an effective way to bring together colleagues whose paths do not naturally cross in their day-to-day work.