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Focus on "First Team" to Demolish Silos

October 10, 2019

When we work with Senior Leadership teams, we often reference the great work of Patrick Lencioni. In his book, 5 Dysfunctions of a Team, Lencioni introduces not just the concept of the 5 Dysfunctions, but that of "First Team". What does it really mean and how does it impact our organization?

As leaders, we often focus first on (or give priority to) the team that we lead. We set priorities, assign work, build accountability, and drive results through that team. When our team struggles, we jump in to help, even if that support creates silos in our organizations.

When we focus on our direct reports as the first team, we 'have their backs' at any cost and our employees feel like they can bring forward complaints and concerns about other areas of the organization. They know that we will listen and agree with them or go to battle if need be. We inevitably create an 'us and them' environment that creates walls and silos.

Lencioni argues that our first team is not the team we lead, but the group that includes our colleagues across functional areas. If we focus first on building relationships and understanding across the functions, we can attain greater success as a whole. Consider the following scenario...

You are the Human Resource Manager at your organization, and you have a team of HR and Health and Safety professionals working with you. Your team regularly feels frustrated that when they try to work with Operations for recruitment, safety training, and staffing pay changes, the Operations team is not respectful of the deadlines they set.

If your HR/Health and Safety team is your First Team, you will likely respond by acknowledging their frustration and perhaps adding in your own. You may even go see the Operations Manager and 'take up the cause' by reinforcing that it is critical that they meet your team's deadlines.

If, however, your first team is the Management team, you will meet with the Operations Manager to get a sense of what his or her challenges are that are keeping the team from meeting deadlines. Then, you will bring your knowledge back to your HR/Health and Safety team and seek ways to adjust your team's approach to help both groups be successful.

Not only does this focus on first team allow us to achieve greater results with fewer silos, it helps us make connections that show we care about one another.

Imagine that you have an ailing parent who is in palliative care. While you are struggling to balance work and your need to support your family, your colleagues from various areas come along side of you, offering to cover things off so you can spend more time at the hospital. When your parent passes, you see that your 'first team' is there at the funeral service providing a quiet but caring support.

What if you didn't have a 'first team'? Imagine that you are in that same situation but constantly getting calls and curt emails while you are at the hospital, demanding that you get certain things done. When your parent passes, no one from the team attends. When you return to work, people arrive at your office door demanding your response to their needs, not even acknowledging that you've suffered a loss.

First team matters. You can support your direct reports while still focusing on first team. In fact, they want you to have those strong relationships across the functional areas. If you do, you are more likely to be informed and aligned on cross-functional initiatives and projects that eventually fall to them to execute. That investment in building first team, makes their jobs easier. If you are not sure where to start, here are a few tips on how you can begin building better relationships as a First Team.

Tips on How to Invest in First Team

  1. Sit with your cross-functional colleagues for lunch or coffee
  2. Make an effort to visit them in their workspace for a five minute 'check in' chat
  3. Don't let your direct reports complain without getting the facts first - help them understand the other side of the situation
  4. When conflicts exist, seek first to understand and then look for compromises for a win-win
  5. Invite your colleagues to have input into your teams' initiatives

So next time you find yourself in the lunch room looking for a group to join, make an investment in building your first team rather than eating with your direct reports. I guarantee you that the time investment will be worth it!


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