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Managers: The team you lead is not your number one priority

Previously on Scaling Start-Ups,

Founder: I noticed my exec team are very capable in their functional areas. But sometimes I feel like they don’t talk to each other. I am stuck in between 😖

Me: How are they collaborating on dependencies? For example priorities between Product and Tech? Commercial and Product? HR and Finance?

Founder: I have to admit, I have to play referee and be the tiebreaker because my execs cannot come to an agreement on priorities😩


Have you ever…

…felt exasperated as the CPO, when product priorities are deprioritised (again!) by the CROs sales priorities? Your discovery data for the strategy meeting was flawless!

…felt frustrated as the Head of Sales (EMEA) when you tried so hard to get the portion of the marketing budget for your region but it went to the US region? You put such a compelling argument forward!

…felt it was unfair as an Engineering Manager when you couldn’t get three new headcounts for the next quarter but another engineering team gets that allocation? Couldn’t they see how much your team is doing and need help?

As the manager of your team, you are lobbying for your team, they are your top priority. Isn’t it your job to ‘fight’ for what’s right for the team you manage?

Your team is NOT your number one priority

Says who? 😱

Says Patrick Lencioni, the author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.

When you put the team you manage as your number one priority, you are approaching your departmental or organisational (executive) leadership team meetings like a United Nations or Parliament meeting - where everyone is getting together to lobby for their constituents, rather than coming together to make a collective decision that is for the good of the department or the organisation.

With this approach, it will always feel like a zero-sum game.

When another manager ‘wins’ in a decision, it is invariably at your loss/cost.

The forgotten team that should be your number one priority

The first thing we need to realise,

1️⃣ If you are a manager of a team, you are a member of the management team of that department

2️⃣ If you are a manager of a department, you are a member of the management team of that organisation

As a member of the management team, your responsibilities are to make collective decisions that impact everyone in the department or the organisation.

That is why the management team you are a member of is your Team #1!

When you realise this, rather than competing for resources (time, people, budget), you prioritise collaborating and sharing responsibilities when making decisions that are a win for the whole department or organisation.

One manager’s gain is not another manager’s loss. You are in a situation in which the wins and losses are experienced by all.

How would this make my people feel?

“If only the management team could align on what they want”

We hear this at every level of nearly every organisation. In my experience, even more so in start-ups that are scaling.

When you are not working as a cohesive management team, the team you manage experiences the negative impact the most. “They are left to fight a bloody and unwinnable battle” with their colleagues in other teams or departments - Lencioni.

The people who are in your team or department, above all else, want you to be an effective team member of your Team #1. Because if you do not resolve your differences and align on collective priorities in the management team, you cannot possibly succeed.

Avoid Team #1 dysfunction by building a cohesive, high-performing Team #1!

It is only natural that you prioritise the team you hired, spent the most time with, nurtured and know best. Heck, you even speak the same ‘language’! You may perceive things such as management offsite, weekly management meetings or those quarterly OKRs setting are an unwelcome distraction from your responsibilities to your team. You may perceive it as the ‘side stuff’ that is imposed on you as a manager.

If done right, these are rituals that build relationships and build trust for team members of Team #1. Trusting relationships enable members of Team #1 to engage in open and constructive conflict to find the best possible solution for your collective challenge.

As a team, if you can’t engage in open and constructive conflict - you cannot really commit to the collective decision that is made. This results in people complaining with comments such as “Management said this…” or “Management decided that…” after decision-making sessions.

Once you have weighed in, shared your disagreements and ultimately taken the best decision as Team #1, not only is a commitment to the decision achieved, but it also enables individuals to take ownership and embrace accountability for the collective decisions.

From deflecting to embracing accountability as Team #1

The shift from focusing on the results for your own team to focusing on the collective results of the overall department or organisation is vital for achieving a common goal and “winning as one!”


JooBee’s note:

Patrick Lencioni is the author of one of my all-time favourite books: The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. I am pretty sure I have contributed to a significant increase in the number of views of his YouTube videos 😅 and will continue to do so here.

Team #1 (thanks Lauren Gomes for introducing this to me!) and Build a Cohesive Leadership Team are 2 videos that I share relentlessly with my clients, managers and exec teams. I hope these videos will change your life as much as it has mine 😉


In the next season...

In our season finale, we wrap up how to come together to make a collective decision as Team #1.

If there is a specific topic in Scaling Start-up that you would like to write about, drop me a message!

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