The Importance of Achieving Commonality
Several years ago, I was invited to attend a client’s annual summer party. The business took great pride in creating a lively event that entertained the employees and their families, expressed appreciation for the employees’ achievements, and strengthened connections between the various operating units and departments.
One of the most anticipated event traditions was the tug-of-war. A tall, old trophy from a dance studio had been repurposed and had a place to engrave the name of the winning team. The figure of a graceful dancer on the top somehow made the traveling trophy even more desirable. The two teams, “Office” and “Production,” were required to have even numbers, so their representatives were selected with great care; and most of the participants were equipped with athletic cleats and heavy gloves. As I watched, the Office team rather unexpectedly beat Production, amid jeering and outcries that next year would have a different outcome.
Although the activity was designed to be a bit of lighthearted fun, there was actually a highly competitive atmosphere surrounding it. Like many organizations, this company seemed to have some level of distrust and perhaps even disrespect between the blue-collar and white-collar employees. Back at the factory, perhaps the engineers didn’t trust that the production people would meet specifications perfectly, and perhaps the production people didn’t trust payroll to get their hours and paid time off computed correctly. Whatever the case may have been, I suspected that the company had an internal tug-of-war going on, and what was needed was a sense of commonality across all levels of the organization.
Is Your Team All Pulling Together?
Organizational commonality is essential to win the ongoing contest for market share, customers, resources, and talent. There is a constant tug-of-war going on with competitors, and the company is less likely to win unless its team is all pulling together. When the organization’s systems are well aligned, each function becomes like a hand on the collective rope; and mechanics and physics dictate that the pull on the rope will then be stronger.
Finding Commonality: 3 ways your organization can become greater than the sum of its parts
Learn what is required to create a common understanding, a common language and a common operating picture within an organization, and how doing so can help your business achieve its desired results.
1. Common understanding
- All understand why the organization exists.
- All share common beliefs as to what the organization is and what it is not.
- All believe in the compelling need for the organization to change in order to improve.
- All understand the possibilities and the “what-ifs” that can make the organization better.
- All are aware that the pursuit of personal agendas will not help the organization succeed.
- All understand what winning will look like and are able to envision that goal.
A business leader recently mentioned the “tug-of-war” that often happens between IT and other departments in his company. He had observed that IT’s point of reference typically derives from the problems they are called upon to solve – but they are not brought in when everything is going well. Thus, IT readily concludes that much is going wrong in the other department, and the other department typically believes IT should anticipate problems and respond more quickly. Minus a common understanding, neither department recognizes the other’s contribution to the company’s achievement of its strategy.
2. Common language
- A common language (terminology) will lead to processes that become an intrinsic part of the team’s DNA.
- A common language creates a sense of unique culture within the organization, which will be a major factor in the achievement of its goals.
- In many cases, the common language is also expressed in “the way we do things” or in a defined process or technology used to solve internal organizational problems.
- Decision rights should be established, communicated, and maintained.
An example of this comes to mind from my attack pilot days in the military. When a mission is assigned to an attack squadron, higher headquarters uses attack terms such as: destroy, attrit, delay, disrupt, reconnaissance, secure, or defend. Each of these terms are carefully chosen because doctrinally they mean very different things from a pilot’s perspective pertaining to mission success. This shared language saves time and limits confusion for pilots in the planning and execution of their assigned mission.
Another example that comes to mind is the term “ROE” (Rules of Engagement), used by leaders of an F100 company relating to business development and sales management. This company developed very clear ways of how they manage sales efforts across the world. These shared ways of working outline how teams at all levels and in all geographies hand off leads and manage governance.
By having a clear, common language, teams are more effective at solving problems efficiently and effectively.
3. Common operating picture
- The operating picture (or business model) should define and even become the framework for the common language that is spoken.
- A common operating picture will ensure everyone understands how the organization delivers value using people, processes, and technology.
- A value-point road map (VPM) will allow your team to visualize the goals of the organization. A great example would be value-point mapping the customer experience and its touch points to create a visual depiction of critical touch points with the customer and how the organization’s strategy can best be achieved.
- Dashboards and other technology tools should be shared across any natural divisions within the organization.
Increased commonality will always foster increased cooperation and trust within your team and will help shift any tug-of-war toward the goal of winning against your competitors. As many different factors push and pull leaders’ attention and energy, commonality within the organization will also provide clarity when decisions need to be made. In its best form, commonality of understanding, language, and operations will provide a platform from which the organization can accomplish meaningful and even breathtaking achievements.