“Teamwork across an organization is so important to drive change,” says Wern-Yuen Tan. It’s a principle the CEO of PepsiCo APAC (Asia Pacific, Australia, New Zealand and China) champions at work every day. But he didn’t pick it up in the corporate world: Yuen started his career as a police detective in Singapore, where he found that it takes several people putting their minds together to solve crimes. “Collaboration is absolutely the secret sauce to really high performing teams,” he says.
Now, as a CEO in one of the fastest-growing regions of the world, Yuen believes in “building great teams to build great businesses.” And working closely with others to achieve common goals makes work more meaningful for everyone. Here, he shares his tips for successful collaboration:
“I firmly believe no one has a monopoly on the best ideas, especially not the leader of a team,” says Yuen. To gather fresh perspectives, his corporate teams regularly join the frontline for a day in the field. This shadowing experience opens the door for idea-sharing that might not otherwise get surfaced. He explains that taking the time to connect with others and getting their perspective “can foster an authentic debate about how to make initiatives more robust and effective.” That mix of ideas is key, Yuen explains. “Actively encourage people to voice their opinions fearlessly,” he adds, “the last thing you want is an echo chamber where everybody is parroting the same ideas.”
When Yuen meets with his team, he makes it a point not to rush right into a business agenda. Instead, he spends time on icebreakers and conversations about hobbies (he likes skiing and tennis) and personal topics (a recent one: a co-worker’s new baby). “Ask people about their interests and their family so that they feel more than just a co-worker,” he says. “If you are genuinely interested, you want to learn about who someone is, not just what they do day-to-day.”
Understand what someone is truly passionate about and you’ll have insight into who they are. Yuen has seen this firsthand from piloting PepsiCo’s One Smile at a Time volunteering initiative in APAC. “It allows our associates to become more deeply connected with their communities and each other,” he explains. As part of the company’s pep+ (PepsiCo Positive) business transformation, the new global program offers employees support and resources to create volunteering opportunities at a hyperlocal level. So far, people have participated in projects like beach cleanups and teaching at community schools. “Through these opportunities, associates feel more connected to the purpose and meaning of their work, while feeling more connected to each other,” he says.
Team members are bound to miscommunicate or have friction every now and then. Maybe you and another stakeholder don’t agree on a strategy, or a co-worker keeps forgetting to include you on important emails. Yuen says it’s important to be upfront about what went wrong to your colleagues. "It is critical to talk about failure and recognize that it's more important to get the learnings out of why something failed and to try again, instead of failing and not trying again,” he suggests. It’s a lesson he learned personally after a misstep with a former colleague several years ago. “I learned that it’s okay to be wrong, as long as you prove that you’re willing to change course.”
Offering support is a great way to add value to your team, Yuen says. "Letting people know that you’re willing to assist them or provide guidance if they need it builds collaboration,” he explains. “I try to spend about 30 to 40 percent of my time engaging with people on how we can help them.” This isn't only something that managers can do: Offer a co-worker a second set of eyes on a project, or see if there’s anything you can keep moving while a teammate is out of office.