Have you ever watched the TV show Survivor?
We used to watch it way back in it’s early days, 15 or so years ago, and I was always captivated by the group dynamics.
One team would get on a roll and win challenge after challenge. Which meant they didn’t have to vote one of their teammates off the island. They were one big happy family.
And then, inevitably, it happened. Their hot streak ended, they’d have to vote to send one of their amazing tribe-mates home.
And it would take about 30 seconds for the claws to come out. This band of brothers/sisters would turn into a bunch of backstabbing politicians before they got to the next commercial break.
In some ways this reminds me of corporate America. When things are going well it’s easy to get along. But when the shit hits the fan, which it always does eventually, everything changes.
Exclusive alliances are formed, fights break out over resources, people start pointing fingers. And, as we talked about last time, people can get real territorial. Such that working across departments can get tricky.
If marketing needs a special favor from the IT department they better have a cost center number to offer up. Or they may have to rattle some cages by running their gripe up the management chain. Maybe an aggressive email that copies and blind copies a dozen or so people.
HOW TO AVOID THIS CRAP DURING GOOD TIMES AND BAD
One of my favorite authors on this topic is Patrick Lencioni. I especially like the advice he gives in his book - The Five Dysfunctions Of A Team. In this business parable he’s speaking to a fictitious company’s senior management team. And he tells them that their primary allegiance must be to the people in that room. Meaning the heads of sales, marketing, operations, finance, etc. have to put each other first. Which is another way of saying that the goals of the entire company have to come before the goals of any single part of the company.
Logically this makes sense. How else would you do it? But in practice, this idea falls apart all the time.
Think of it in more concrete terms. Is the average VP of Sales more focused on the needs of the sales team he or she manages, or on the needs of the Chief Financial Officer? At pretty much every company I’ve ever worked the answer to that question is the same. The bonds within the department are much stronger than the bonds across departments.
And this makes sense. Looking at sales as an example. This VP of Sales lives or dies based on the work of the people in her own organization. She hired and trained and nurtured them. She talks to them every single day. She travels with them. She commiserates with them. She gets to be the boss when this group is assembled.
And then, once a month, she gets together with her peers on the management team. And they battle over fun stuff like budget allocations, headcount, investment priorities etc. And around this table she isn’t the boss. She’s just one competing voice among many.
So you can see over time how management team members could get territorial. Not so excited about working across departments. And Lencioni drives this point home in this article where he talks about the most dysfunctional team ever assembled. The United States Congress. Here’s a quote…
“Imagine a group of professionals who meet virtually every day to try and resolve the biggest problems our society faces. Now, imagine that same group of people more concerned about the people they represent and their own self–interest than they are about society's most pressing concerns. This is what often occurs in places like Congress and the United Nations. Officials advocate for their own political interests first and foremost, and the greater good takes a backseat.”
That’s what happens at your company if your management team members put the priorities of their departments ahead of the priorities of the company. It sounds gross when politicians do it, but most management team members do it every day without even thinking about or realizing it.
And if you think I’m exaggerating how bad this can get, you haven't been around much. I could tell you lots of stories where this kind of stuff defines the organization. One of the worst I saw was an eye-opening conversation with a depressed tech company CEO. Her head of marketing and head of R&D hadn’t spoken to each other in five years.
This is why getting this stuff right is such a differentiator.
HOW TO DO WHAT LENCIONI SUGGESTS
OK, in theory we all agree that the management team has to put the priorities of the company ahead of the priorities of each department. But how do we get there?
Well, you could try demanding that the folks on your management team become besties. Or maybe schedule a fancy team bonding outing at a swanky resort. Or maybe not.
The real answer, the tough answer, is that you can’t let anyone remain on your management team that puts themselves or their department ahead of the company. If you let this happen at the management team level the vibration only gets worse as it works it’s way down the org chart. Not acceptable.
Call them out. Counsel them. Warn them. And if all that doesn’t work, replace them with someone that better understands the full responsibility of being part of a trusting leadership team.
It’s your job as the business owner / CEO to vote them off the island.
(This site is all about building a Map that will help me do work and life better. So at the end of each post I check in to see if any changes / insights come to mind.)
This is an easy call in map terms. They’re violating a key component of my IF - Growth and Connection. They’re selfishly aligning themselves with their department rather than with the entire company.
And we NEVER tolerate Map violators.
***NOTE: I've added a new section to the website. It's titled SPEAKING and it's where you'll find brief examples of talks I've given and information on how to get hold of me if you're looking for a speaker.