EHS professionals today face increasingly complex challenges, from preventing exposure to COVID-19 to reducing carbon emissions and addressing climate risk across the value chain.
Challenges like these are rarely met by a single person; instead, they require collaboration from experts in multiple disciplines. EHS professionals must work closely with human resources, operations, product development, procurement, marketing, and other functions in order to find solutions that work.
Of course, this is easier said than done. In today’s article, we’ll share five practical tips to help you foster effective collaboration with other departments:
1. Ask to be included
The pandemic has helped EHS professionals secure a seat at the table. Still, it's frustrating when you're left out of an important meeting or conversation that affects your work. Not only do you miss out on the opportunity to contribute, you have to play catch-up in order to find out what you missed. Once you get over the initial sting of being excluded, there are things you can do to be sure you're invited next time.
First, don't assume you were excluded on purpose. EHS does a lot of work behind the scenes, so many people don't understand all the different roles you play. In fact, your colleagues may have been trying to do you a favor by not inviting you to a meeting they didn't think you needed to attend. An easy solution is to tell your colleagues directly which types of meetings you wish to be involved in.
Next, have something to contribute at each meeting. For example, you might offer to create a few slides with safety or environmental data that is relevant to the agenda. Or, you might volunteer to facilitate the discussion or take minutes and distribute them to other attendees. The key is to be a visible, active participant.
2. Get on the same page about your goals
Collaboration is defined as two or more people working toward a common goal. But if different departments aren't clear on what the goal is, then everyone ends up running in different directions.
For example, let’s say you work for a company that manufactures consumer packaged goods. As part of your ESG goals, you want to make your packaging more sustainable. But what exactly does “more sustainable” mean? The marketing team is concerned with specific eco-labels for consumers, while procurement is focused on fair labor practices within your supply chain.
Even individual team members may have their own interpretation, so it’s important that everyone is on the same page about your goals and how they fit in. You’ll also want to see to it that everyone understands the budget, scope, and timeline before things get underway.
3. Invest in relationships
Relationships are the foundation of successful collaboration. The more comfortable colleagues are around you, the more likely they are to share ideas and give constructive feedback.
However, if you don’t see your colleagues in other departments every day, these relationships may not happen naturally. This means you’ll have to invest a bit of extra effort in building them.
Showing interest in your colleague’s work is a great place to start. Which projects are they working on right now? Which parts of their job do they enjoy the most? Asking questions signals that you’re genuinely interested in what’s important to them, and it opens the door to future partnerships.
4. Be visible
Remember the old saying, “Out of sight, out of mind”? When you’re part of a remote or distributed team, it’s easy to fall off your colleagues’ radar. You can’t just pop across the hall to their office or chat around the water cooler, so you’ll have to make an extra effort to stay top of mind.
Be intentional about connecting with your colleagues in other departments. And don’t just rely on email or chat. Instead, pick up the phone or schedule a Zoom call to touch base about a shared project. By making a point to connect on a regular basis, you’ll keep the door open for collaboration.
5. Avoid information silos
Being able to share information across departments is critical for collaboration. If team members only have access to the information from their own department, it’s hard for them to get a holistic view of the issue and solution. Everyone must have access to the same data in order to be able to work together effectively.
Imagine, for example, that your safety department stores illness and injury data in one system, while finance stores information about workers' compensation payments, medical expenses, legal fees, and property damage costs in a separate system. Without proper integration, it’s difficult or impossible to understand the true cost of workplace accidents.
This problem can be solved through data integration, which is the process of combining data from different sources into a single, centralized repository. A centralized management system provides teams with a unified view of the data for collaboration. In fact, Gartner analysts predict that 70% of organizations that adopt collaborative management systems will report a significant improvement in team performance.
Bringing it all together
Fostering collaboration between EHS and other departments requires intentional effort. Ask to be included in meetings, establish clear goals, invest in relationships with your colleagues, make a point to be visible, and avoid information silos. If you follow these steps, you’ll be on your way to more effective collaboration.