Growth Insights for CEOs

Bridging Silos – Four Steps to Creating High-Performance Teams in Your Enterprise

Posted by Andrew Poon

high-performance-team.jpgI was moved recently when I saw football quarterback Tony Romo, leader of the Dallas Cowboys, address the public.

Sidelined by injury, Romo, a marquee player and one of the top quarterbacks in the league, was now forced to play second fiddle, as his backup, rookie quarterback Dak Prescott, played his way from obscurity into a permanent spot in the starting lineup.

And people talked – they wondered, “How would Romo take the demotion? Would he get angry? Ask for a trade?”

Instead, Romo stood before the media and supporters, and in a brief, emotional statement, expressed his support for Prescott – and reminded people of the power of the team concept. Even as Romo passed the torch, gracious in his praise of Prescott’s talent and work ethic, Prescott thanked Romo for his selfless mentoring, constant support and ready advice from the bench.

In fact, the stars like Romo, and now Prescott, are the first to give credit to the entire team, many whose names are unknown to the general public. Nonetheless, the unknowns’ performance, on and off the field, is critical for success of the team. From the left and right tackles that protect the quarterback, to members of the practice squad who never play a regular season game, all play their parts. Embracing the team concept has led the Cowboys to a 9-1 record through the first half of the season. 

As I pondered the recent events surrounding the Cowboys, I thought about how these lessons would apply to companies struggling to perform at a championship level in today’s hyper-competitive business environment. In particular, it reminded me of the mistake many companies make in the way key functions are organized and evaluated -- often resulting in internally competing silos, rather than functional and subject matter experts working together toward common goals.

Just as a championship football team is able to project the “big picture” by unifying 53 strong-willed individuals with very different talents as one, you too, within your enterprise, need to work to redefine how the team concept should support profitable, sustainable growth.

The “siloed” approach to business has left in its wake a rocky relationship between functions – one that runs the gamut from fierce rivals, to grudging partners. At best, these silos feel strong but independent, perhaps even more important than their colleagues, thereby missing the opportunity to grow through experience and mentoring. At worst, they try to outperform each other, resulting in unintentional and unproductive use of talent and company resources. 

But with the sales cycle accelerating, analytics ruling the day, and top-performing organizations winning the battle for wallet share, it’s high time for your silos to unite for the greater good.

Though wins and losses are part of what is at stake, real revenue, too, is at risk: The Internet is awash with studies that show that a failure to align sales and marketing teams around the right processes can cost B2B enterprises 10 percent or more of revenue each year.  A recent Harvard Business Review article provided good insights as to why sales and marketing tend to be at odds with each other, and how to fix it.

However, as with a professional sports team, it is understood that winning performance needs to encompass not only sales and marketing, but also manufacturing, purchasing, engineering, product development, and executive management.

So, how can you adopt the classy posture of Romo and all of the Cowboys? In my view, you first remind yourself of what typically results in an environment with zero silos and fully unified functions. When does that happen? It happens with a one-person entrepreneurial venture, or with someone who is forced to perform every business function. In this example, as the business grows, the need for additional employees with different skill sets also grows, but the fundamental business functions remain the same, and the seamless interaction of functions must also remain.

This illustrates the reality that silo friction is most likely an organizational behavior issue. We can look at four distinct phases in the process of achieving high performing teams within your organization. Note: There are NO shortcuts, and all four phases must be experienced and completed.

  1. Forming: When you get a group of well-meaning people together in a united effort, something amazing happens – each member, unified by a common goal, will act in support of the others to ensure the goal is met. 

For example, although it takes but one salesperson to ask for a deal or a new client, it takes the efforts of the entire team – riding on his or her shoulders – to close the deal. This means that each member must be mindful of your company’s processes – how the product is engineered, the service delivered; how does the typical consumer interact with the company; how are problems solved? 

But getting your silos “un-siloed,” and the team in place, is just the first part of the process. As the novelty wears off, overcoming old conceits does take some doing – which leads us to our next step: 

  1. Storming: When you bring strong individuals together in a cooperative effort, it can be difficult to check the id at the door. Everyone in the room will have an opinion. The discord that can result during these formative efforts can be enough to cause the team to give up – or to retreat back into those familiar silos, where it’s safe and comfortable to express individuality.

So how do you deal with these choppy waters? It’s critical at this stage to recognize that not only is this conflict typical, it is quite necessary. The individuals’ strengths need to be harnessed by a strong facilitator/coach/manager, so you can identify where each person fits into the process, and to acknowledge the importance of the contribution they make. Some people may have a natural proclivity in developing products and solutions. Others may have a knack for talking to, and interpreting the needs of, the customer. That’s great. Remember, success for this team is to win customer approval – and their money. You may have the best product or service in the world – but unless you can unite to communicate this efficiently to the client, you’re dead in the water. Note that the opposite is also true. Experiencing the storming phase with new teams or newly arrived members and learning to accommodate the differences, is critical to successful team development. 

  1. Norming: Arriving at this stage means you’re ready to adopt an unselfish posture. You recognize the talents of the individual, and employ those in a recipe that will ultimately lead to success.

By working to identify roles, responsibilities, and normal rules of engagement, the group is now ready to function as a team.

  1. Performing: This is when the group really takes off -- scoring the big run, racking up the points – even benefiting from a bit of luck, since the process is now solid. Here, you understand the customer’s problem, why one solution to their problem might be better than another, what is the best way to sell and execute the solution, and how to deliver a quality product that will generate customer referrals. As an example, in a previous life, I worked with a service company that was selling a new technology product to offshore drilling interests. The product was a true game changer – offering companies the chance to efficiently perform a function that would be very costly if mishandled. 

Though the technology represented the best in its class, the company struggled to sell the product. But, it also had an “ace-in-the-hole” – a solid team that could leverage its parts to understand where the product was missing with customers, and to make the necessary adjustments in the marketplace.

Through feedback from the sales team, it became evident that the product had been “over-engineered” – that it was trying to perform a series of complex processes, when all the consumer wanted was for a singular function to be performed in an efficient manner. 

With this feedback, the engineers on the team led a process to make a few modifications to the software. Once the product met the customers’ expectations, sales took off – chugging from $5 million to $30 million in three years’ time. 

The lesson here relates to the value of the team – those on the team who were good at connecting with customers, were able to bring key insights that spurred real change to the product, process – and ROI.

Are you ready to gain team alignment in your enterprise?



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Topics: Alignment, CEO Strategies, CEO Business Strategy

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