Your Organization Needs to Be A Team of Teams
Oh, to Be Young Again
Company structures are changing, at least for many. And for good reason. Companies simply no longer operate as they once did. Part of the excitement and energy around a startup is that everyone is on board with collaborating together, wearing multiple hats, and having a “can-do” mentality. Only time and growth are the villains, robbing these innovative yearlings of their youthful optimism.
As companies grow, over time, something happens. People are hired less because they are a good fit for the overall culture of the company and more because they can do one thing well: sales, marketing, HR. In a startup or small company, one person in marketing may work with one person in sales to develop enablement tools. Then they talk with someone who takes care of the budget to see how much they can spend.
In a larger company that may have been around a while, these different people work in siloed teams who have their own structures and lines of command. That marketing person now must sit in a marketing meeting (or a dozen) with many marketers to see what enablement deliverables might be needed, often without ever speaking to anyone in sales. Budgets are allocated annually so finance likely has no idea how the money is being spent.
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Growth Isn’t Always A Good Thing
As dysfunctional as these organizational silos appear, most are birthed by growth. Those who focus on organizational design understand the relationship between an organization’s structure and its effectiveness. When an organization is small, structure isn’t really necessary. Everyone does whatever needs to be done and communication is continuous. As companies grow, however, designating specialized departments to handle each function makes more sense. Marketing takes care of marketing. Sales focus on sales. While these silos bring order, they have their own challenges, too.
Communication between departments is the first casualty. Cross-team collaboration slows to a crawl, if not completely obliterated. Decisions are in a constant state of flux because there are so many stakeholders and middlemen who must put in their two cents. Resources become the prize for the highest bidder and the squeaky wheel is the one who gets the attention. This competition for scarce resources breeds resentment and eventually the company culture is impacted.
Communication Is King
So what is a growing company supposed to do? It needs structure so everyone knows their roles and can reach their goals, but it also needs the cross-functional collaboration it once had when it was just a babe. It all starts with communication. Inherent with structure is a breakdown in cross-department communication. Communication blockages can be released when people begin to work together towards a common goal.
This is where the “team of teams” concept comes in. In Gillian Tett’s book, “The Silo Effect,” she offers a perfect example we can all relate to. When you are ill and need care, you go to a doctor. If your case is out of their area of expertise, you may be referred to a specialist or surgeon. You can often be bounced from one doctor to another, a frustrating and never-ending cycle of “he said, she said” conversations with no resolution.
If, however, doctors operated as a team of teams, they would all discuss your case and work together to come up with a course of treatment. The Mayo Clinic and a few other hospitals do this well and are often highly sought after for this very reason. They assemble teams of specialists, surgeons, physicians, radiologists and others to work as a unified team to properly diagnose, treat and follow up with a patient. They share data and intelligence to quickly render the best path for each patient. What a concept!
Any organization can do the same. Instead of reorganizing the entire company, they can establish teams of people who can work together to see a project through from ideation to completion. Communication, data, and intelligence flow freely as everyone has a stake in the game and is working towards a common purpose.
In another book by General Stanley McChrystal, “Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World,” McChrystal takes this concept to the battlefield. He says that small teams, in any situation, have many advantages. They can respond quickly, communicate freely, and make decisions without layers of bureaucracy. Sound familiar? He points out, however, that this concept can be a challenge to scale. Regardless, the principles still apply. The only difference is with growth, you need technology “to establish a oneness that would have been impossible even a decade earlier.”
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Organizations, large or small, can benefit from this approach. The goal is to enable teams of people to work independently, yet collaboratively. This works well given our mobility and the dispersed workforce. People need technology to bring them together, even though they may never see each other face to face. They need the freedom to make decisions without all the red tape. They need to understand how their efforts align with corporate goals, not just team goals.
Communication must flow freely back and forth, where ideas are welcomed and innovation inspires. Resources are shared, but even more, are appreciated. How many organizations are unaware of all of the talent under their roofs? HR and maybe their own teams (again, the silos rear their ugly heads) know what John and Sue can do, but does the rest of the organization? Are skillsets, experience, and continuing education part of every employee’s profile and even more, accessible in a directory across the organization?
How much money could organization’s save if they could fully leverage the talent they already have instead of looking to contractors or additional headcount? On the flip side, how many employees would welcome the opportunity to expand their reach of influence and share their knowledge outside of their sheltered silo? Gallup found that “opportunities to learn and grow” is one of the top three factors in retaining employees, with 87 percent of them saying development is important in a job.
Getting Back to Basics
These opportunities to learn and grow are precisely what inspired the first hires of the startup. It seems we all just want to go back to the “good ol’ days” when we didn’t have to ask for permission to innovate and execute a great idea. We were a scrappy bunch who knew how to get things done in a pinch and didn’t care about authority or structures. We did what needed to be done. And we did it so well, our companies grew. The bigger our companies got, the further we traveled from our roots. We, in essence, became our parents we once swore we wouldn’t be like. Our companies morphed from wily teenagers to established adults who believed order was the only discipline.
The good news is your organization doesn’t have to start from square one. It simply needs to remember what made it so successful from the beginning. Break down the silos and help employees forge relationships. Give them a collaboration tool that includes streamlining communications away from grossly insufficient emails… an org chart that is interactive and presents rich profiles with skillsets, experience and other helpful personal details.
Transforming your organization from a rigid departmental structure to a cross-functional organization may take time. If you’re gun-shy to create these teams company wide, try piloting a cross-functional team or two on a few projects to see how much efficiency and productivity changes when walls no longer divide.
Whether you go all-in or only dip your toe in the waters, get buy-in from the execs at the top so employees understand this isn’t simply another re-structuring. It’s a change in perception and culture. It’s structuring the company to reflect how you see the world and how you tackle challenges.