by Brian Turner — February 26, 2020

One of my 2020 resolutions is to regularly share stories of how leaders are helping their organizations, their leadership teams and themselves understand and drive transformational change. This month’s story is about a small team that is the connective glue between two divisions of a large Phoenix-based company.  These two divisions differ greatly in their business focus, customer experience and management philosophy. Yet, today, the need to drive a shared mindset and customer experience is paramount.

Understanding the molecular structure of an organization

I met with several of my peers earlier this month – Marko, Venn, Jennifer and Kevin. This team has worked in this organization for a long time, connecting the dots between each division. They have developed a deep appreciation of the values, governance structures, interests and aspirations of the teams and individual leaders of these two divisions. They have understood, observed and contemplated the customer experience in both divisions – which is different and equally valuable. This team brings many analytical superpowers to the table, but what really makes them click is their ability to work across the organization, drive alignment and get things done.

I dug into their superpowers and was reminded of L. David Marquet’s “Turning the Ship Around” and “Leadership is Language” (his recently released book). Marquet describes the importance of “blue work” – the curiosity to learn more and the ability to generate inductive thinking (rather than deductive thinking) that broadens the options we have to solve problems. In my meeting, I was struck by their curiosity to learn more about the intersections of these two divisions – when it works and when it doesn’t – and their ability to apply that learning to their work. It was a lot of good ol' fashion discovery, thinking out loud and sharing. All of which would have made Marquet proud.

Applying a new lens to an age old issue

As we sat around the table contemplating how to drive more collaboration and integration between these two divisions, we decided to ask ourselves the classic human-centered design thinking question: ”How might we enable a new level of collaboration within these two divisions?” 

That furthered our discussion and got us thinking about the world of mergers and acquisitions. We discussed the most successful cultural and organizational integrations that we’d seen, agreeing that the winners of the M&A game, those that see long-term successes, are those that can drive vertical and horizontal integration – by function, by process, by mindset, by team and by leader. Our curiosity peaked, we expanded our thinking to explore both what we could learn and also what would be applicable to these two divisions. And we visualized what new connections, activities, and metrics we could explore that could foster enhanced learning and collaboration for this large organization.

Thinking out loud to chart a new course

As Marquet stresses many times in his work: Give information – not direction – to help other leaders get the clarity to move forward. The imperative of driving increased collaboration is a complex, adaptive issue for many cultures. None of us from this meeting in Phoenix, knows exactly what will unlock new collaboration and possibilities at this organization. We can, however, visualize new methods, new conversations and establish metrics that allow us to see progression. Our job is to create the institutional belief system of what is possible and put the paint brush in the hands of this organization’s leadership – coaching them on what success looks like and how they might want to proceed.

How will you guide thinking and possibility?