Leadership Principle #5 – Train Your Team (Part 1)

I have a confession to make.  I’m a compulsive reader.  I know that’s a dangerous and potentially subversive habit, but I can’t seem to stop.  Most of the time I have it under control, but once in a while it breaks out and I wind up exposed to some destabilizing idea that forces me to rethink my assumptions (and to completely rewrite a draft blog post…)

That happened to me the other day when I read the following: “reporting to the same boss doesn’t automatically make a group of people a team”.  Of course, I thought, they need leadership to weld them together into a team.  Foolish me, I then read further.  “No”, the article said, “it’s not just about leadership.  For a group of people to be a team they need to be interdependent functionally, that is, they must require each other’s work to be successful in their own.”  Six individual hockey players on the ice aren’t going to win if each tries to “do it all themselves”.  However, five “Customer Service Representatives” reporting to the same sales manager can work independently and still be successful, notwithstanding that they may be referred to collectively as a “team”.  (In fact, company compensation policies may actually encourage them to compete against each other.)

I once was part of an organization where a number of “stove-piped” functions had been brought together under one boss.  The theory was that this reorganization would break down the stovepipes and lead to greater efficiency, effectiveness and all of the other words that look so good in PowerPoint.  In reality that never happened.  There were a lot of meetings, and a number of consultant studies, but the stovepipes remained.  In retrospect, this was able to happen because each function remained independent.  Because Function X did not require the input of Function Y to do their job, Function X continued to work in isolation and throw their results “over the fence” to Function Y, which happily returned the favour.

By contrast, I recall another experience in which the first step of organizational amalgamation was a far-reaching restructure which broke up all of the existing teams and functional groups and replaced them with a new structure that institutionalized interdependence.  This approach created considerable unhappiness in the short term.  However, within a few months a deep-rooted sense of “team” had emerged across the new organization, in large part because it was no longer possible to work in isolation.

So, before talking about training your team, consider the following questions:

  • Are the groups working for me interdependent?
  • Do I want them to be interdependent?  Do they want to be? Do they need to be?
  • What would interdependence look like?  How would it play out in the monthly/quarterly/annual rhythm of our organization?
  • If interdependence is desirable, then how do I create the conditions where interdependence is not just a nice idea, but an unalterable reality?
  • Once interdependence is achieved, how do we start to get good at working together?  (more on that next week).

What are your thoughts?  I’m curious to know what experiences you have had in this area.  Let’s talk about it.