While still a consultant, for 15 years I was simultaneously part of a pastoral team at a New York City-based Church. In my capacity I managed a few ministry departments over the years. I’ve always enjoyed leading my ministry teams but – depending on the year and how things were going – I often found myself being protective of my department, sometimes at the expense of prioritizing the larger pastoral team of which I was a member. I found myself battling for volunteers, “air time”for Sunday morning announcements, recognition for my team and for time to present our vision at staff meeings. Sadly, I wasn’t the only one who found themselves in this predicament.
Sadder still, whether I am consulting with a church, a municipality or a private company the same thing is rampant. Executive team members jockeying for attention, resources and recognition, often at the expense of unity.
Yet this could all be avoided, along with the dreaded “silos” between departments, if we observed this simple but profound principle outlined by business author Patrick Lencioni (The Five Dysfunctions of a Team ; The Advantage; Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything).
Lencioni introduces the concept of the “First Team”, or Team #1, in his most recent book : The Advantage (Harper and Collins, 2014)
He posits a paradigm in which the executive or leadership team one is a member of should hold precedent over the team the individual leader may be leading, him/herself. This is exactly the opposite of what I see in almost every department of every organization I’ve ever consulted for. The author likens it to the U.N. or the United States Congress where all of the individual senators and congressmen are so busy lobbying for the interest of their constituents that they can rarely get together as one for the good for the nation. We can see how damaging it is when bills that could benefit the poor are stalled, funding is held hostage to politics and the government even shuts down, rather than individual members or political parties putting the needs of the Nation they’re all representing first.
It’s no different in the University where at senate meetings each Academic department head is unwilling to sacrifice a budget line, a few square feet of lab space, share an administrative support person or otherwise look at the college as a whole for the sake of the students they are paid to educate. Rather, it never becomes more than the sum of a bunch of departments.
If you are on a leadership team as a member, that is your first team; your priority team – not necessarily in terms of time, but in terms of vision, mission and long term thematic focus. If an organization is focused on increasing membership, then each department head (who comprise the executive team) is obliged to make securing new members the priority for the team they lead even if it adds uncomfortably to the workload of that team. When HIV Education became a priority at a College where I once ran a training program, every program director found a way to integrate HIV Ed into their courses. There was no “opt out” because they had other priorities and their staffs were swamped.
What if the first team is not your first team?
It’s easy to find examples of the disasters that ensue in this case. Politics alone is rife with casualties – with the collateral damage being the citizens, themselves. I have seen people who were good leaders turn into poison factories when rather than support the goals of the team they are members of, they allowed their subordinates (who love and are loyal to them) to sabotage the effort citing loyalty to their (second) team.
I can only imagine what will happen when my consultant colleagues and I can get this paradigm through the all of the agencies we are currently working with; what happens when organizational department heads see each other as allies rather than competitors, and their staff collaborate in a multi-disciplinary way because that becomes the norm. How their consumers’ lives will be changed!
Imagine if the accounts receivable department and the customer service department were on the same page? If operations and program departments joined forces?
So ask yourself 3 questions:
1. Who is your first team? Have you been using this paradigm or has your second team (the one you lead) actually been your first priority?
2. How might this paradigm shift the way you are currently relating to your colleagues in meetings, in how you speaking about other divisions when you’re with your staff?
3. How might it change the way your second team relates to the organization as a whole? What might happen to their morale?
4. If this philosophy carries throughout the organization, what might this mean for program outcomes or even product sales and consumer loyalty?
So go home, do your own soul-searching first, and then introduce it at a staff meeting. Be honest about your own answers to those questions.
I would love to hear what happens.