Visionary Leaders Prioritize Collaboration
- 24 Best Leadership Practices | Part 16 of 24 -
Cross-functional collaboration or the lack thereof separates winners and losers. No matter how many all-stars or geniuses an organization has, any individual effort and its accompanying silos will result in failure. A collaborative, team effort will always win over individual efforts from even the greatest minds. As Steve Jobs found, “Great things in business are never done by one person; they're done by a team of people." As such, great leaders must create a culture that drives ownership around the concept that together we can accomplish anything as long as we don’t care who gets the credit. As Andrew Carnegie stated, teamwork is the “fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.” As such, any enterprise that works in silos will always lose to an organization that works as a team. Finally, not all collaboration is created equal. For example, artificial harmony may give the illusion of collaboration but can be more debilitating than transparent disgruntlement. Instead, value unlocking collaboration transpires when meaningful engagement takes place because everyone recognizes that individually we are no one powerful than a drop of water but together we are more powerful than an ocean. Such a mindset requires a significant cultural shift - one that will drive great value to the enterprise, employee, and customer because of a prioritization on collaboration. Read about creating an inspired, purpose drive culture HERE.
Silos Destroy Growth
The complexity of the corporate landscape is ever increasing, which is driving an increasing number of internal silos that contributes to many enterprise and employee pain points. Simply, many business units act as entities unto themselves, which in turn produces complexity from value erosive silos, hoarding, ulterior motives, misaligned incentives, and accompanying customer pain points. For example, and according to BCG, organizational complexity has risen 35-fold since 1955 coupled with that fact that 50 percent of performance requirements are contradictory. In large part, these value erosive problems stem from a slow erosion of collaboration in favor of individual efforts. Indeed, the animosity and internal competition amongst a company’s business units are often fiercer and more value destructive than what it faces with its own competitors. Simply, business units often act as if they were part of an unhappy arranged marriage with internal competition being fiercer than external competition. Consequently, a company's own worst enemy is often itself. In today’s Fourth Industrial Revolution, where complexity, customer expectations, and innovation cycles are at an all-time high the presence of silos will only produce failure.
As such, silos are the death of companies because they produce negative synergies via promoting ulterior motives and individual efforts. On the other hand, cross-functional collaboration drives positive synergies from improved innovation, focused alignment, increased employee engagement, improved customer experiences, and an inspired culture. For example, in a recent survey, 87 percent of the words used by the marketing and sales teams to describe each other were negative, in large part because they weren’t collaborating. On the flip side of this, collaborative, aligned sales and marketing teams show ~4X higher annual revenue growth compared to teams that do not collaborate. Now imagine the revenue growth if that alignment applied across the entire enterprise - not simply across sales and marketing as this example illustrated. As McKinsey & Company found, a key distinction between strongly and poorly performing organizations was the percentage of time spent collaborating. Simply, cross-functional collaboration or the lack thereof is often the underlying element responsible for stagnant versus profitable growth. Leaders must be on notice – silos are far more common than once wishes to believe. Teamwork can always be improved upon. There are no perfect scores in running a business. Rather there is an exponentially high ceiling of continuous improvement beginning with delayering complexity and mitigating ulterior motives via cross-functional collaboration. The best quarterback of all time can’t alone win games just like the greatest virtuoso violinist alone can’t perform a Beethoven symphony – instead it takes the collaboration of the entire team.
Ultimately, a great leader must transition individual efforts to world-class team play. Simply, great leaders must be the sports coach that brings together a winning team not just an individual all-star. Similarly, a great leader must be the conductor that turns his back on the audience (i.e., the financial results and markets) and instead focus on bringing out the best performance from its people. Just as a great orchestral performance, where everyone is functioning in perfect unison, will bring a great applause so too will great cross-functional collaboration drive financial results. Simply, the greatest achievements were never done by an individual but rather by a team that trusted each other and were inspired to leave aside their ulterior motives in sacrifice for the betterment of the team.
Implement Enterprise KPI’S
To create such collaboration and break down siloed walls, leaders should not only create the right culture that rewards collaboration but should also leverage enterprise KPI’s which brings together the entire enterprise with alignment and incentivization under the umbrella of the same overarching KPI’s. Simply, enterprise success and its accompanying cross-functional collaboration hinges on having an enterprise scorecard whereby all the business units and employees within a company have the same KPI’s. This ensures a true team effort versus siloed hoarding and misaligned incentives. Such a premise stems from that fact that leadership will not get the company where it needs to go unless it brings laser-like focus. Along with that focus, everyone must be incentivized to get to the company’s aspirational goals in an expedient fashion because today’s winners are not those with size but rather those with speed. However, if each business unit is incentivized differently it becomes easy to lose focus on the real enterprise goal, leaving significant room for silos to form along with slow, complacent decision-making and many customer pain points.
Simply, individual accomplishments will further silos while team incentives will promote cross-functional collaboration, speed, and customer engagement. As Bud Wilkinson found, “If a team is to reach its potential, each player must be willing to subordinate his personal goals to the good of the team.” Just as in sports, the enterprise dashboard and its accompanying KPI’s should be updated in real-time. Such a dashboard ensures a “we’re all in this together” mentality. Thus, people are less likely to watch someone fail if the entire team has a stake. Otherwise, it’s a race to the top in which every employee plays politics with little concern for the carnage and enterprise destruction that transpires. As Patrick Lencioni noted, “The pursuit of individual goals and personal status erodes the focus on collective success. Members of great teams improve their relationships by holding one another accountable. Without accountability, people will gravitate toward their own personal goals at the expense of the collective goals of the team.” A simple rule of thumb is that a company won’t get what it doesn't incentivize. As such, an enterprise scorecard will drive (1) significant team ownership, (2) quality team decision-making, and (3) cross-functional synergies, allowing the entire organization to reach its aspirational goal in the most expedient fashion. As Lyndon Johnson noted, “There are no problems we cannot solve together, and very few we can solve by ourselves.” Indeed, with enterprise KPI’s, leadership can create a culture where the enterprise can accomplish anything because no one individual or business unit cares who gets the credit.
While the path to enterprise collaboration can be daunting it is nonetheless vital to unlocking significant growth. As long as each business unit is an island unto itself there will be significant energy and financial leakage. Indeed, internal competition is often fiercer than external competition, meaning leaders must ensure silos, slow decision-making, and ulterior motives are replaced with collaboration - the precursor to unity, agility, speed, and success. As Henry Ford once noted, "Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success." Indeed, cross-functional collaboration is the gateway to profitable growth or the lack thereof.
Thus, success as a leader and ultimately success as an enterprise will be determined by how well people work, engage, and collaborate together. As Mother Theresa said, “You can do what I cannot do. I can do what you cannot do. Together we can do great things.” As such, without cross-functional collaboration, value destruction begins from the inside where a toxic culture, hoarding, silos, and misaligned incentives create pain points for both employees and customers. On the other hand, distinctive collaboration creates a sustainable competitive advantage because engaged teamwork (not simply artificial harmony) ensures quality speed to market, innovation, an inspired culture, high employee engagement, improved productivity, and world-class service excellence. Remember, individually we are no one powerful than a single drop of water but together we are as powerful as an ocean. As such, never forget that together we can accomplish anything as long as we don’t care who gets the credit.
Read the other best leadership practices HERE.
24 Best Leadership Practices
- Series Overview -
The following article is Part 16 of a 24 part series on leadership (See all 24 best leadership practices HERE). To summarize, leadership is everyone’s business. Moreover, leadership abilities are not some innate talent that some were either born with or not but rather is a highly learnable skill. As such, everyone has the potential to become a great leader as long as one embraces a mindset of continuous improvement. Simply, leadership is not so much about inherent gifts and raw talent but rather the emotional awareness, humility, and perseverance to understand that leadership is a lifelong journey that is never mastered. Indeed, aspiring leaders must acquire the endurance of a marathoner, the musculature of a sprinter, and the mental fortitude to embrace that there is never a finish line but rather an unending goal of continuous transformation.
Ultimately, the leadership journey is not about becoming someone else but instead is about becoming one's best self so that in turn one can help others become their best self. And, while there are many facets that go into successful leadership we have identified 24 best leadership practices all of which are grouped into one of three categories, namely (1) inspire, (2) empower, and (3) innovate (see all 24 practices HERE).
INSPIRE: To inspire action, great leaders appeal to people's hearts more than their minds. Simply, visionary leaders plan with the mind, lead with the heart, and reflect with the soul.
EMPOWER: Great leaders empower those they are leading while simultaneously creating a collaborative culture that promotes the notion that together we can accomplish anything as long as we don't care who gets the credit.
INNOVATE: Visionary leaders embrace change and understand that the term "good enough" is used by the lazy to justify inaction. As such, great leaders disrupt themselves and their companies before others do it for them.
Leadership is the greatest race one will ever run – one without a finish line but also one with an exponential ceiling for those that embrace change, growth, and learning. While the level of employee talent may determine the potential of an organization it is the leader that ultimately unlocks that potential and determines the success of both the organization and its people. Although no leader will be a master at each of the proposed 24 leadership practices, awareness is often the greatest agent for change and continuous improvement. As such, we hope the proposed practices will be of service to you in maximizing not only your leadership potential but also the potential of those around you.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Joshua Seedman is the founder and chairman of PNI Consulting, a management consulting firm that specializes in global transformations. He has over 20 years of operating and general management experience with expertise in organizational transformations, customer experience, employee engagement, digital transformations, sales & marketing, operational turnarounds, culture/change management, and high-stakes negotiations. His experience includes executive roles within F500 companies, top-tier consulting leadership (McKinsey & Company), over 10 years of global P&L ownership, and corporate lawyer (Davis Polk & Wardwell). He received his MBA from Kellogg School of Management and his Juris Doctor (cum laude) from Northwestern University School of Law.