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