Have you read the ancient Indian story about the elephant and the six men? The story holds an important lesson for organizations.

In the story, six friends blindfold themselves and play a game where they try to identify objects they come across. As they venture out, they come across an elephant. As the story goes, none of them had seen an elephant before. Each one of them proceeds to feel different parts of the elephant.

After careful analysis, the first man declares the object is a large drum. He was touching the elephant’s stomach. The second man objects vociferously. It is a rope, he asserts as he feels the tail. The others vigorously forward their assessments: the trunk of a tree, a fan or a curved stick.

Finally, when they cannot agree on their assessments, they take off their blindfolds to discover that the object they were envisioning and the real object are starkly different. While their individual assessments were based on valid information gathering and analysis, they realize they could not have been more wrong.

Different points of view

The different teams and departments in a company more often than not act like the six blindfolded men. They view the company and the issues it faces from their distinct perspectives, which leads to different assessments of what is important or what is urgent and, unfortunately, sometimes a lack of respect for the viewpoints and capabilities of the other teams.

For instance, in many companies, sales and operations departments do not share a high opinion of each other. The operations team may feel the sales team makes unrealistic promises to customers. The sales team, on the other hand, may feel the operations team is unable to deliver the quality and timely performance necessary to thrive in the marketplace.

The issues exist at all touch points and involve all the teams. While teams have their heart in the right place and want to contribute, they are caught up in their way of thinking and fail to see the big picture. Their hard-nosed assessments do more harm than good.

Re-engineering and realigning perspectives

As a leader, you must recognize the severity of the problem and address the issue diligently. Ensuring that your teams develop a broader perspective and solve problems from a company perspective rather than a departmental perspective is a crucial component of your job.

Changing the perspectives of successful departmental leaders who have a good measure of self-esteem (read it as ego) is an excruciating task. To encourage a company perspective, invest heavily in cross-functional, companywide initiatives. For instance, develop, crystallize and propagate a detailed and meaningful mission to unite the teams. A strong mission would serve as a higher purpose than individual departmental interests and concerns.

Emphasize improvement and performance themes that are cross-functional in nature and scope. Hoping that the teams will just rally around companywide goals is not a good strategy. Generate a vigorous discussion with all the teams present so they can appreciate the goals and develop joint ways of achieving them.

For example, achieving revenue goals cannot be the sole responsibility of the sales department. If it is perceived that way, the probability of success is lower.

Similarly, efficiency cannot be a goal of the operations team alone. All the other teams, from sales to customer service, HR, IT and accounting have to understand and respect the value of operational efficiency and provide their full support, ideas and active cooperation and contribution.

Help your team members recognize and appreciate the elephant so they are not lost in their individual parts. ?

Quoted in The Wall Street Journal, Barron’s and WorldNews, Ravi Kathuria is a recognized thought leader. Featured on the “BusinessMakers” show, CBS Radio, and “Nightly Business Report,” he is the author of the highly acclaimed book, “How Cohesive is Your Company?: A Leadership Parable.” Kathuria is the president of Cohegic Corporation, a management consulting, executive and sales coaching firm, and president of the Houston Strategy Forum. Reach him at (281) 403-0250 or feedback@cohegic.com.

Published in Houston
Monday, 31 December 2012 19:39

Dealing with dysfunction

Take a look at the demographic makeup of your staff. Chances are that you’ll notice a broader range of ages and backgrounds than you’ve ever experienced before. Your success is dependent on creating a culture that can get the most from your talent base because a happy workforce is a productive workforce. So how do you build a culture that is conducive to multiple mindsets?

At hfa, we’ve embraced the generational gap in our workplace by creating a collaborative culture that values contributions from multiple perspectives.

It’s essential to take into consideration the differing psyches of various generations: Baby boomers are work-centric, goal-oriented competitors who believe in long hours at the office to get the job done. Gen-Xers are more tech-savvy and adaptable — they value a strong work-life balance. Gen-Yers are even more tech-focused, collaborative and likely to blur the line between work and leisure time because they want to work at something for which they have true passion.

All are valid philosophies

The key to managing differences in mindsets is to understand that they are all valid, viable philosophies that can contribute to your business’s success.

Bringing disparate groups of talent together requires team dedication. The model that our company has adopted to drive teamwork is based on a book called “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” by Patrick Lencioni. The book describes five healthy functions, which form a pyramid that builds toward a results-based, productive environment rather than one that is activities-based and nonstrategic.

The five functions are trust, conflict, commitment, accountability and results.

The most important function is trust. Trust means team members believe in each other, both as people and as professionals. It’s a vulnerability-based trust that forms the foundation of any good team.

Conflict means healthy conflict — the ability to challenge one another in order to find new perspectives and unique solutions. Unhealthy, negative conflict is counterproductive and harmful to your team.

Once the team has gotten past conflict, all members align with the chosen course of action in the commitment stage. Differences are put aside for the good of the team.

Accountability is the act of taking ownership of one’s responsibilities and answering to the team when efforts fall short. An accountable team member will strive harder not to let the team down, resulting in higher quality work.

And finally, everything builds up to results. Establish a tangible goal and measure your efforts against whether that goal is met. A team that performs all five of these steps can expect to start seeing positive results.

Embrace differing talents

Another method we’ve found for fostering a collaborative culture is to embrace the different talents of each individual. “Strengths Finder 2.0,” a book by Tom Rath, stresses the importance of capitalizing on strengths rather than wasting energy trying to shore up weaknesses. It also contains an assessment test to identify an individual’s strengths.

By giving this assessment to our entire agency, we were able to use the results to group associates into teams based on complementary strengths. Furthermore, the information has been helpful in building trust between associates by allowing them to better understand each other’s motivations and preferences.

Finally, a collaborative culture must provide associates with outlets that can help bolster business. Our agency has teams such as our Future Team and Green Team that promote innovation among associates with a strong interest in technology and the environment by encouraging them to explore opportunities and trends to apply in our business.

We’ve also remodeled our offices to create a more collaborative workspace. Adding open gathering areas for informal meetings, for example, now allows associates to quickly exchange ideas and updates.

The secret to growth in the modern business environment is an idea as old as business itself: teamwork. Embracing the multiple mindsets and strengths of your workforce by fostering collaboration is a growth strategy that will pay dividends in any marketplace. ?

Matt McCallum is vice president/talent development at Hitchcock Fleming & Associates Inc. (hfa), a leading full-service marketing agency in Northeast Ohio, named as one of the Top Workplaces 2012 Northeast Ohio by The Cleveland Plain Dealer. McCallum is in the current class of Leadership Akron, is past president of Torchbearers, a leadership development organization for young professionals, and is a member of the Akron Art Museum’s marketing committee. Reach him at (330) 376-2111 or mmccallum@teamhfa.com.



Published in Akron/Canton