What is your primary team?


No matter how high or low you’re up in the hierarchy, you will always come to the point where you are a member of two teams. Cluster or domain responsibles have their own domain team and are member of the overall team above. Team leaders have their own team and are member of the leadership team for their department. Department heads have their own department and are member of the leadership team of their division. And so forth.

Primary team

Unless you’re at the entry point of the hierarchy (to avoid the negative connoted word “bottom”), you always belong to at least two teams. But what should be your primary team? The primary team is the team which gets priority regarding meetings, decisions and long-term strategy.

In some cases we see that team leads or department heads consider their respective team or department team as their primary team. Which means that at the respective department or division meetings they will take up this role and defend their interests in their own team and department.

When leadership is only interested in the interests of their own department, it leads to “silo thinking“. As a result, the interest of the “bigger goal” of the company is neglected and transversal cooperation between the different entities will deteriorate.

An indicator for silo mentality is (achieving) personal success of persons and teams/departments, but failure for the organization.

Another indicator that leadership is giving the wrong team priority, is when they are not present in meetings with their primary team. For team leaders this applies that they will give priority to a team meeting rather than to the department meeting.

Overcoming silo thinking

Silo thinking

Silo thinking

You can overcome silo thinking by:

  • Explain the concept of the primary team and the link with the common goal of the company. This is also referred to as systems thinking: see the sum instead of all the parts.
  • Emphasize on team work and cooperation. Make sure your team members know what is expected from them and what cannot be tolerated.
  • Measure team performance: pick KPIs which are the aggregated result of the sum of the parts. Avoid (unhealthy) internal competition and (only) personal performance. Let the best in class help the others succeed.
  • Reward transversal (between teams, departments, divisions, …) improvement initiatives, best practice sharing and other team behaviour.
  • Walk the talk: the same is valid for those up the hierarchy!

Taking up these tips will result in high performing teams and long-term success.

Additional reading

“The four obsessions of an extraordinary executive” from Patrick Lencioni

“Silos, politics and turf wars” from Patrick Lencioni

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