Working in an environment with many distributed offices and timezones and correspondingly silo'ed projects, many employees never meet talented, creative folks on other teams who can be co-conspirators on innovative projects. Use speed dating techniques and videoconferencing to quickly introduce employees to one another.
In a large multinational engineering firm, email and other online collaborative tools have become the default means for employees in different timezones to collaborate with one another. These tools have become remarkably effective at ensuring meaningful project progress and timelines, and continuity of care for bug issues, leveraging the functional expertise of many different teams.
However, working constantly on directed tasks that are keyed in on specific functional goals misses the opportunity to make human connections among coworkers in different offices. Employees lose the chance to leverage the unique talents and brainstorming potential of their fellow coworkers simply because they are not in the same office or team, where looser human interactions can lead to new ideas and potential new lines of business. In the worst case, employees can spent months working with a coworker without every knowing their face, personality, or any individual human trait beyond their email handle.
1) Book rooms in 30 minute increments in local and remote offices for individual employees, at times where both can meet (for example 6 PM California and 9 AM Tokyo time)
2) Arrange for videoconferencing software or other solutions, for employees to pick up on facial emotion and body language
3) Arrange for a series of questions for employees to ask one another to start a discussion, for example:
a) What team do you work on and what excites you about your current projects?
b) What cool hacks have you done in your career, either here or at a previous company?
c) Where do you see the future of [a trend] going and what way could we contribute?
4) Ask the 2 employees in every "speed date" to be loose in their questions and answers and let discussion flow, and feel free to discuss topics outside of work.
5) Follow up after "speed dates" to see whether they were useful to the 2 sides.
Arrange for 2-3 dates for each employee per week for several weeks, among a random assortment of pairings (crossing job functions and titles.) Also consider having employees working at the same location or travelling to meet face-to-face over coffee. After several weeks employees such have met a interesting set of coworkers in the larger organization.
Employees would feel they understand the "human being" behind roles, email and IM handles. and job titles. They will feel more kinship towards coworkers and people to reach out to in work situations, regardless of geographic distance. They will also have met a set of individuals to perhaps kickstart entrepreneurial ventures within the firm, by using the unique skillsets and perspectives of workers in many different parts of the organization. By recognizing common human traits and areas of interest across many different backgrounds of employees, a given worker might see their future in the firm is much broader than their current team or functional role.
Tease a speed-dating event by listing interesting facts about certain employees in other locations, with a "Did you know?" series of posters. Build interest among workers to find out new interesting, surprising things. Start off sessions with management to build awareness of the potential of the program.
Youtube and Google employees, San Bruno, Santa Monica, Tokyo and Zurich offices