A salesperson really wants to close a deal and agrees to a delivery date manufacturing can’t meet.
Manufacturing doesn’t respond quickly to a salesperson with a time-sensitive customer service issue.
A scientist marshals the talents of many to pursue a drug for which there is no business case because she didn’t involve marketing in the product cycle soon enough.
In your organization, think of a time when “the right hand didn’t know what the left hand was doing.”
Why did this happen?
In each of the examples above, and probably in your organization, too, problems like these arise when subgroups become fixated on their own activities and fail to look at the whole.
Whether you call it tribalism, silo building, turf protection or finger-pointing, it chews up physical and emotional energy that distracts people from their jobs, wastes resources, disconnects people and stops the flow of information, severely weakening your organization’s ability to compete.
Tribalism starts when employees and leaders view their organization as divisible and compartmentalized. We begin to see our immediate coworkers and our part of the organization as “special,” alienating people from other “tribes” within the same organization, whom we paradoxically rely on to get things done.
Whether it is departmental, hierarchical, generational, geographical, categorical or gender-specific, tribes are formed in organizations every day. The old-timers resent Gens X and Y for being fickle and disloyal, while the young people impatiently throw their arms up in frustration because they can’t dislodge the organization from its “dinosaur” ways. The “creatives” resent the “suits,” and the suits can’t believe they have to put up with people who think “business casual” means cargo shorts and flip-flops.
What forms of tribalism exist in your business? Where does seamlessness break down internally? Do any of these examples ring true?
In a complex business environment where organizations are made up of more and more specialists, a great value is placed on leaders who can bring diverse groups together in a spirit of cooperation to get things done.
Use the following five strategies to banish tribalism and lay the groundwork for cross-departmental collaboration:
• Create a clear, compelling and urgent cause. In our book, “BOOM! 7 Choices for Blowing the Doors Off Business-as-Usual,” we point out that firefighters, police forces and special units teams rarely get caught up in tribalistic behavior because the mission at hand is laser-clear and the consequences of mission accomplishment are compelling and urgent—often a matter of life and death. Make your cause exciting, build a solid business case for what you’re trying to do and inspire the people involved to care as much as you do. People find all kinds of reasons not to work together when they are unclear about or indifferent to the cause.
• Promote meetings between department heads. Something positive happens when people meet together face-to-face. Thinking and brainstorming together, problem solving together, celebrating together, and assuming collective responsibility for the organization’s success is a powerful catalyst for building trust and making collaboration a way of life. Of course, busy people who compete for scarce resources or think they really have no reason to build rapport will resist this effort, but don’t back down. It could be the single biggest thing you can do to foster creativity, collaboration and cross-functional accountability. Department heads that do this will be more likely to assemble joint task forces comprised of people from different disciplines with different backgrounds, further promoting a culture of collaboration.
• Recognize, reward and celebrate collaborative behavior. The legends of athletic dynasties consist of incredible collaborative efforts. Players sit in locker rooms and clubhouses reminiscing about the key play “when it all came together.” Whether told through video, newsletter, podcast, annual report or webinar, stories of great collaboration break down the walls of tribalism and honor collective accomplishments. Attaching performance metrics and bonuses to collaborative efforts sends a very strong message to everyone about what values are driving the business.
• Make innovation a preeminent focus. Creativity and innovation by necessity require different people with diverse perspectives and expertise to “cross-pollinate” the organization with fresh ideas. When the bar for innovation is set extremely high and creative breakthroughs are an expected part of the culture, people have no choice but to start silo-busting.
• Ask the tough questions. Put a small ad hoc team together, then go to the functional areas that receive the output of your work and ask the following questions: What are the top ten things we do to make it difficult for you to do your jobs? If you were running our department or business unit what would you do differently? How can we make the “handoff” to you more seamless? If we were easy to do business with, what would that look like? Have the team convey the answers to the rest of your department, then begin making changes. Circle back to those who gave you feedback, thank them for their insight and candor, then tell them what changes you are implementing.