(615) 656-0465 mark@markkennyspeaks.com

What makes an organization unassailable? For one thing, they eliminate the gaps between teams, departments, and divisions.

During a basketball game, the spectator’s focus is on the skill of the players—the ball handlers that cross-over a defender, the deadly three-point shooter, the shot-blocker. Of course, you can’t go very far if the individual teammates are not skilled individual players. However, to be a great team, the real action takes place in the gaps between the players. How well do they space the floor, pass the ball, move without the ball, and set their teammates up for a shot?

The Action is in the Gaps

It’s in the gaps where the speed, adaptability, resilience, and strength of an organization are determined. It’s in the gaps where it’s determined how quickly we can “permeate new strategic company objectives” throughout the organization, as PricewaterhouseCoopers articulates it.

Getting departments, divisions, and teams to work together is one of the leading reasons why organizations don’t become unassailable. Over the course of my career I have heard many different versions of the same story:

  • Different managers and supervisors that have their own methods, practices, and agendas, resulting in their teams unintentionally being pitted against one another
  • Different teams that are not willing to help and cross-train with each other
  • Different leaders have different perspectives on what is really important right now
  • Teams that resist working together even when a major goal requires collaboration
  • Information hitting the wall of a “silo” and simply not passing through that wall

There are many high-profile examples of gaps, such as engineering teams not coordinating together on Boeing’s Starliner capsule, resulting in delays and problems. The documentary Challenger: The Final Flight documents the sometimes catastrophic results of such gaps. For every high-profile example, there are many, many low-profile yet equally detrimental examples.

Gaps are Everywhere

When I played on our school soccer team in the seventh grade, our coach had a favorite conditioning drill that would pit one player against another. One player would start on one corner of the soccer field. The other player would start on the opposite corner of the same soccer field. When he blew the whistle, we would start running in the same direction. Our goal was to catch the other person while not getting caught ourselves.

You don’t have to have played soccer to know that a soccer field is pretty big. I can tell you from personal experience that it’s even bigger when you’re forced to run around its perimeter.

There were only three possible outcomes from this drill:

  1. You caught the other person and could stop running.
  2. You were caught by the other person and had to keep running.
  3. You threw up.

That’s how the people on your teams feel. Even though teams are technically “running” in the same direction, they are actually operating alone and positioning themselves against each other so that they look better, never, ever get caught, and, most importantly, don’t throw up.

It’s like a manager from a large federal agency that spoke up during a leadership meeting I was observing and bravely said, “Why can’t we just be one [insert undisclosed agency name]? Why can’t we just work together?”

They don’t want the organization to be re-structured or the office environment opened up or competition added between teams. They just want to function as a cohesive team.

Unassailable organizations eliminate gaps between teams.

How Do you Eliminate Gaps?

Naturally, that is a big question. However, there are two very practical components you can implement now.

There is one key pre-requisite: every team needs to have the same core purpose, strategic emphasis, and collective goal – starting with the executive team. In other words, they all must be heading in the same direction. This sounds simple but is rarely true. It is also another post in and of itself.

For the purpose of this post, I want to share two practical components to intentionally close the gaps.

The Harvard Business Review reports that there are two problems with teams: They have an us-versus-them mentality, and they have incomplete information. The two components to eliminate the gaps between teams address these two problems. They are:

1. Create Authentic Relationships Between Departments, Divisions, and Teams.

When you create authentic relationships, we naturally move away from us vs. them mentalities. How can you create authentic relationships? Here are a few ideas:

  1. Forums: plan regular forums for people from different teams to get together and talk about something meaningful.
  2. Cross-Integrated Groups: create a group of individuals selected from separate teams to meet regularly.
  3. Leader Lunches: plan regular lunches where leaders from different teams connect over lunch.
  4. Required Trainings: leverage required trainings as an avenue to also establish relationships.

2. Create Collective Awareness.

When everyone has a high-level mental picture of what everyone else is doing, it is easier to share information and work together. How can you create collective awareness? Here are a few ideas:

  1. Business Process Review: hold a regular “business process review,” to review a short concise, collective plan and have each leader report on their part of the plan.
  2. War Room: create a war room that centralizes information for a particular strategic initiative.
  3. Daily Check-In / Check-Out: hold a daily ten-minute check-in and a daily ten-minute check-out.
  4. Timeouts: plan intentional time to step back, share information, and review how you are doing. 

These two components are simple and easy to implement. You can implement these now, today. With intentionality, they are two components in the quest of creating an unassailable organization so that no one ever thinks or blurts out, “Why can’t we just be one [insert your company name]?”




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