Often when I work with a GM and the department heads, I will start by asking each of them to write down the name of a person on their team – just the first name that comes to mind. Then I ask them who in the group has written the name of a person who is in this room now on their piece of paper. And invariably, it will always be only the GM who raises his hand. The GM sees the other people in the room as his team. But, the department heads seldom see each other as the team.
Department heads tend to see themselves as Indian chiefs. Each represents his or her tribe; and when they meet, it is about defending territory and resource allocation, not about collaboration.
Two Different Cultures: Taking Responsibility and Being held Responsible –
They key to understanding why department heads end up as heads of a tribe and not as the team we dream about has to do with how we work with responsibility.
If we spend our time at management meetings trying to identify who was responsible for ‘That’ when something goes wrong, then each department head learns that the only way you can play that game and not get hurt is to create clear boundaries. ‘This is what I am responsible for – and that is what you are responsible for. Just make sure you don’t cross that line.’
The savviest department heads also learn not to stick their necks out and take on more responsibility than they need to.
Responsibility means trouble.
So, over time leaders (and their teams) become more and more passive and reactive.
But, we all know that being passive/reactive is not what gets us raving customer reviews. In order to rise to the top in our category, we need to be proactive. Managers and their teams need to take initiatives and anticipate needs in order to delight customers.
But, they will only do that if:
a) it is accepted that boundaries between departments are soft and
b) that we do not ‘punish people’ for taking initiative even when they are not successful.
That means a different culture.
The alternative to being held responsible is to develop and encourage a culture where we take responsibility.
But that is a completely different culture; because, if you think about it, no department is an island. The boundaries we have created between departments are, in reality, just here for our own sake so that we can organize stuff in a meaningful way. From the customer’s viewpoint, these boundaries should be invisible.
The customer is looking for a total experience – the whole.
And because no department is an island, when something goes wrong, in most cases it goes wrong for a number of reasons – not just for one reason.
So, the question we need to always ask ourselves when something goes wrong is: “What could WE have done to prevent this happening?” Then, maybe department head A immediately jumps in and says: “That was my fault. I screwed up, and I will do my best not to make that mistake again.” Case closed and we can move on to the next item on the agenda.
If that does not happen, we need to analyze what happened, not to place the blame, but to learn how we could have prevented this… most probably, with better collaboration at some level.
Because – if you remember – the definition of a team is:
A group of people with a common goal and who feel mutually responsible for reaching that goal.
Feedback Drives our Behavior.
Everything that we do is based on our previous experiences or our beliefs about what an experience will be. So, as the leader, your feedback to your team governs their behavior, and over time they become a reflection of your feedback.
And, they will either become a team or they will default to heads of tribe – it’s up to you.
Building a great service business begins with understanding the Service Profit Chain framework. In my view, that is the foundation. Check out my free introduction here: