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Making Collaboration A Way of Life at SOBHA Ltd. Through Effective Internal Communication Team Huddles

In the second edition of Intraskope’s Spotlight on Internal Communication Series, Abhinav Kanchan – Sr. Vice President – Corporate Communication & National Marketing Head at SOBHA Ltd. , one of India’s recognized real estate organizations discusses an internal communication initiative – Sangam (in Sanskrit: confluence of rivers) that got all leaders and employees on the same page to collaborate. His team’s effort to break down silos resulted in improved partnership across teams and added a new dimension to managing effective meetings. Meetings in organizations can often drain valuable time if not effectively managed. While there are suggestions to manage time effectively in meetings very few organizations have found an approach that makes these interactions meaningful.

Issue that needed addressing

I joined SOBHA Ltd., in 2013 to lead internal and external communications. With over 2700 employees and a related entity of over 10,000 contract staff, the company prides in managing the entire supply chain of constructing residential and commercial projects.

After a few weeks, it became evident that the company’s initiatives were afflicted by one-upmanship and an inert culture. So much so that the Bengaluru Marketing, Corporate IT, Customer Relationship Management, Corporate Communications and other key departments were not talking to each other as much as they should have. Work moved at a casual pace and there were hiccups in delivering simple yet basic requirements for customers. Delayed information sharing and getting feedback or views were bottlenecks to progress as a team. For example, a large sum was paid to an agency to create a new website which never materialized. We lost 4 years of valuable time in the process. A lot of money, energy and time had gone down the drain without any real benefit. The existing website needed attention and an urgent revamp. There were many other communications, marketing, customer related, human resources and IT issues that needed frank and fair discussions. The question we needed to address – how do we break down silos and get people to talk to each other and make things happen?

The intervention

Investing collective wisdom towards solving the challenge, we designed an intervention called Sangam. Since ideas need to flow freely amongst different teams, the name symbolically and aptly defined our objective. We invited senior management and all the Heads of Departments (HODs) such as Marketing, CRM, Technology, HR, Sales Accounts and Finance for a dialogue on ways of working.  In the first session, we outlined our approach of regular and consistent interactions to solve business challenges. The first meeting focused on creating a robust website to present a consistent face for SOBHA  Ltd. Since inputs from all key departments were essential for such an exercise, we invited them to participate, own and get involved in the process of collaboration. All the HODs and their team members appreciated the effort the internal communication took to make sense of energy sapping meetings that were held. Senior management, aware of the existing problem placed their support for this collective team meeting initiative.

We held our 1st Sangam in February 2014 and to date has completed 28 such interactions. What started initially as seeking inputs for the corporate website from various internal stakeholders evolved into a problem-solving platform addressing different business issues. Once we firmed up the website and showcased it as a success story, word quickly spread of how swiftly decisions were made in Sangams. We moved on to other pressing areas such as digital transformation, customer connections, privilege programs, use of big data, simplification of customer applicationn forms, improving the customer portal and knowledge management effort.

 

The format of the Sangam brought in professionalism, discipline, and order to the often maligned team meeting approaches. Just an hour of focused attention resulted in creating immense value. To make meetings productive, we shared the agenda ahead of time and only relevant teams were invited on pre-determined time slots and dates. Minutes were captured and circulated so that key stakeholders knew their next steps and senior management were aware of progress. Tasks were assigned and accountability fixed with timelines. Aggressive follow-ups were done with different teams so that work progressed as committed.

The Internal Communication team’s role in crafting the solution

The Sangam program caught the imagination of Sobhaites. We could solve real pressing issues that overlapped across teams and such tasks which were stuck for weeks and months started getting solved. The impact became visible and the benefits (tangible and intangible) valued by the business. More productivity at work, lesser delays, and more collaboration emerged as tangible outcomes. Intangibles included open communication, a fair amount of trust and bonhomie among teams. All the HODs were talking to each other more frequently. There was less recourse to writing emails and more work started getting done on calls and face to face interactions. The Corporate Communications Team served as a catalyst to overcome a silo culture by bringing in real impactful change within the organization. This helped us focus our attention on other critical communication programs. We began to be perceived as trustworthy and as a team that brought positive change without stepping on peoples’ toes. The role played by the department got noticed and perceptions began to change. Silos had crumbled and a new open culture had taken root.

It is important to understand these inflection points and address them with transparent and trustworthy internal communication tools. In sum, Sangam served as an impactful and timely intervention that brought people together, helped change the silo culture and tap the collective wisdom of all departments. Several minds are definitely better than a few in achieving business goals.

The impact it made

Now that Sangam successfully established itself as a ‘way of life’ and the key to business success, our goal is to scale this engagement further by introducing informality to help teams build stronger relationships. It will be a platform where ideas can be discussed without fear, however radical it may be. It is one thing to voice out ideas and it is another to weigh the pros and cons well and implement. Helping employees to get creative and innovative will help take the organization to the next level of maturity. Employees felt heard and now there were thoughtful discussions and debates before decisions were taken. The influence of internal communications helped leverage the power of consultation and strengthen the brand for the better.

In terms of impact, we got our brand new working website up and running in 3-4 months and now garners 60% of our leads. It was a great saving of time and money. Similarly, many marketing and CRM, IT and communication issues were sorted out quickly as Sangam helped us to follow a time-bound work schedule where people were made accountable and empowered and all other departments helped the person. No one came up as a road block as there was buy-in from all concerned departments already. We easily saved a fourth of the valuable corporate time. In addition, it hastened our speed of work and we could focus on other challenges.

Here are some direct comments people shared about Sangam:

  • “Your Sangam initiative is like a whiff of fresh air for the organization. It has increased organizational productivity manifold. Very timely and impactful intervention. Keep it up.”
  • “True to its apt name, Sangam did bring effective change in the way we worked without stepping on anyone’s toes.”
  • “It was great fun to be part of Sangam. It has helped bring seamlessness at our work place. There is more of informal phone calls now instead of only e-mails. It has also brought Sobhaites closer and has helped each other understand challenges faced by other departments. We are more appreciative now of what others do for the company.”
  • “Using simple, time tested and such unassuming ways, Sangam has proved its mettle. It has no corporate trappings.  We now know that we have a place to sort out our work related difficulties in an easy and effective manner. It has helped save lots of company time and money.”

Your personal learning which other practitioners can benefit from

My realization was that essentially each department is trying to do their best although they can be less effective by working in isolation. Transparency and trust can bring the best in teams and that is what we attempted to do. I personally believe that every company passes through a particular stress point in its journey. We deliberately kept it simple and wanted everyone to understand that we are serious and we want positive change and that too quickly. SOBHA is a stickler for quality and known for a no-nonsense approach. Sangam fitted well with this aspect of the organizational culture which people could relate with easily. Sangam brought them together, helped have positive and constructive conversations and truly collaborate. Once people saw our intent, they chipped in.

 Other internal communication practices at SOBHA

Sangam isn’t the only internal communication initiative that we have. We have a lively intranet called mPower, designed in-house and is a repository of all our processes, knowledge and shared values. Our very successful employee referral program popularly called SOBHA Advantage is also a part of our mPower. We launch all our initiatives first on mPower. We have developed a deep appreciative culture by institutionalizing the SOBHA Excellence Awards. These prestigious internal awards from the Chairman to Sobhaites recognizes great work.  We have our own set of leadership and group messages called Good Cheer emails along with business updates and media coverages.  

Our timely and suitable internal communication interventions keep our Sobhaites informed and updated. The company has been rated as the most admired and trustworthy company for the past three consecutive years in real estate pan-India by Track2 Realty, a credible think tank. This hat trick has been a rare feat achieved by any real estate company in the country today. We have also been voted as the most trusted brand by Non-Resident Indians and recognized as the company with best CSR practices in the real estate space. A detailed consumer confidence survey done by 10,000 people in 20 different cities in India have proven for the past 4 consecutive years that SOBHA  remains the top realty brand in India.

What are your key takeaways? Look forward to hearing from you. 

Have a story to share? You can send in your content to Aniisu at intraskope@yahoo.com

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