The Importance of Achieving Commonality
Several years ago, I had the pleasure of attending a client’s annual summer party. The business takes great pride in creating a lively event that entertains employees and their families, expresses appreciation for the employees’ achievements, and strengthens connections between the various operating units and departments.
One of the most exciting event traditions is the tug-of-war. The award is a tall, old trophy from a dance studio that includes a place to engrave the name of the winning team. The figure of a graceful dancer on the top somehow makes the traveling trophy even more desirable. The two teams, “Office” and “Production,” are required to have even numbers, so great care goes into the selection of their representatives; and most of the participants use athletic cleats and heavy gloves. As I watch, the Office team rather unexpectedly beats Production, amid jeering and outcries that next year would have a different outcome.
Although the design of the activity is a bit of lighthearted fun, there is actually a highly competitive atmosphere surrounding it. Like many organizations, this company has some level of distrust and perhaps even disrespect between the blue-collar and white-collar employees. Back at the factory, perhaps the engineers don’t trust that the production people meet specifications perfectly, and perhaps the production people don’t trust payroll to compute their hours and paid time off correctly. Whatever the case is, I suspect that the company has an internal tug-of-war going on and needs 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. With alignment of the organization’s systems, each function becomes like a hand on the collective rope; and mechanics and physics dictate that the pull on the rope is stronger.
Finding Commonality: 3 ways your organization can become greater than the sum of its parts
Below are requirements to creating a common understanding, a common language and a common operating picture within an organization, and how doing so helps your business achieve its optimal 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 looks 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 observes 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) leads to processes that are an intrinsic part of the team’s DNA.
- A common language creates a sense of unique culture within the organization, which is a major factor in the achievement of its goals.
- Express the common language in “the way we do things” or in a process or technology that solves internal organizational problems.
- Establish, communicate and maintain decision rights.
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 develops 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) defines and even becomes the framework for the common language that is spoken.
- A common operating picture ensures everyone understands how the organization delivers value using people, processes, and technology.
- A value-point road map (VPM) allows your team to visualize the goals of the organization. A great example is value-point mapping the customer experience and its touch points to create a visual depiction of critical touch points with the customer and how to best achieve the organization’s strategy.
- Share dashboards and other technology tools across any natural divisions within the organization.
Commonality always fosters cooperation and trust within your team and helps 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 also provides clarity when decisions need to be made. In its best form, commonality of understanding, language, and operations provides a platform from which the organization accomplishes meaningful and even breathtaking achievements.