Red Team, Blue Team: How Office Politics Can Disable Your Business

It happens every four years.

It’s election time, friends. Debates to watch, polls to track, and political pundits telling us how to interpret everything.

Even checking my Facebook is startling now. I see my dear friends’ posts that surprise me almost every day. “What? How can she ‘like’ that???” ‘Tis the season.

The intense partisanship and competition between the political parties has made rooting against each other socially acceptable or expected. Some seem to want the other guy to lose even more than they want the country to win. Votes on important issues aren’t taken because a voting record hurts at election time, challenges are ignored because of the political price of changing, and a good recommendation won’t work if it’s the other candidate’s idea.

The business “silo” effect

And hang on, because we have a few more weeks to go!

In the business world, we call this “silos.” The lack of collaboration and cooperation between departments that hurts the business and organization is the most common business challenge I see. It’s when marketing has their own objectives in spite of the impact on the sales team. Or, the sales team is only concerned about aggressive revenue targets regardless of whether the delivery team can actually deliver it well.

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In this example, the sales team is “red” and the delivery team is “blue.” The overall business objective takes a backseat to the team and individual results. And, sometimes more than takes the backseat – it’s not understood or even forgotten. However, I have never seen the divisiveness in business that we see in politics today.

How to start breaking down the silos

But, we set it up that way. If you have silos in your organization, there isn’t a quick fix, but there are few things you can do to break them down.

  • Make sure rewards encourage collaboration. Take a look at how the sales team is rewarded. If their incentives are very high revenue targets with no consideration for ability to deliver or quality, then don’t be surprised when customer problems arise. Make sure rewards drive the behaviors that best represent your brand in the market and with customers. And, look at rewards across all groups based on the customer experience and the business you want.
  • Leaders expect collaboration every day. I watched one senior leader improve silos simply by asking the right questions. When the head of Client Delivery came in with a new process for managing clients, he asked, “Have you spoken with the head of Business Development? What are her views?” If the answer was “no” or “we haven’t talked,” he sent them back. He insisted on joint recommendations for any cross functional plans before he approved it. Everyone soon learned that you couldn’t work in isolation and get any sponsorship, approvals or funding. Guess what?  The silos got better.
  • Define end to end processes. End to end processes consider the hand-offs from one group to the next. This keeps the attention on effectiveness and the impact to the business and customer, not what happens inside one group. Pay special attention to where the process moves from one group to the next because silos stress these steps.
  • Eliminate internal competition. In my experience, many organizations with silos have some unspoken competition between groups. It may be competition to be the most important or be the most successful – which can create problems in the extreme. Look for leadership behaviors that encourage extreme internal competition and weed them out. At one organization I observed a CEO who always picked someone on his leadership team to be out of favor. This habit set up competition between groups as everyone wanted to avoid being in the hot seat.
  • Expect cross-group problem solving. This may be called quality teams, working groups or process committees. When there are customer problems, business opportunities or strategic initiatives it will take involvement from multiple teams to have a holistic plan.

If you can see that your organization is turning both red and blue, look for ways to keep the attention on making the business better – not on beating another group. Competition is best used against the real competition, not each other.

This was originally published on PeopleResult’s Current blog.

Patti Johnson is the CEO of PeopleResults, a change and organizational development consulting firm she founded in 2004. She is the author of newly released "Make Waves: Be the One to Start Change at Work and in Life." Patti and her team advise clients such as PepsiCo, Microsoft, 7-Eleven, Accenture, Frito-Lay and many others on creating positive change in their leaders and organizations. Previously a Senior Executive at Accenture. Patti is an instructor on change for SMU Executive Education and for the Bush Institute Women’s Initiative, as well as a keynote speaker on change and leadership.


5 Comments on “Red Team, Blue Team: How Office Politics Can Disable Your Business

  1. I truly believe that silos hamper innovation.  Love all your recommendations, particularly the one where leaders proactively ask the question.

  2. Great advice Patti! I think the importance of cutting across silos can’t be understated, as it can provide a strategic advantage to companies if they figure out the secret sauce of making that work effectively!

  3. Great suggestions about breaking down the silos, which are so common in many organizations.  I’ve seen it work but takes leaders to begin the change in behaviors and it will trickle down through the organization.

  4. Eliminating internal competition is one of the hardest things to do – by the way, some perceive internal competition as a good thing rather than a threat. I personally perceive it this way as well.

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