What is Your Secret Weapon? Why Integrated Teams Are the Secret to Success The integrated team, a group of leaders dedicated to both the success of their own areas of expertise and the success of the whole, is the secret sauce that can help you achieve sustainable competitive advantage.
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Organizational survival and success require firms to locate and capitalize on their sources of competitive advantage. In the resource-based view of the firm, organizational capabilities are the primary source of advantage. Rather than assets like human capital, materials and equipment, or knowledge, capabilities are the special attributes of the firm that enable the deployment of assets for superior performance. In other words, organizational capability is the je ne sais quoi that explains why two seemingly similar firms operating under the same constraints and within the same market deliver dramatic results.
The integrated team
One such organizational capability is the integrated team, a group of leaders dedicated to both the success of their own areas of expertise and the success of the whole. Team members show this dedication by pivoting to serve another member's project, leading the whole team on a project, and finding new ways to serve the team and organization as needed. In this way, each integrated team member attends to the entire organization, the entire organizational strategy, and the entire organizational ethos and identity in their approach to leadership.
Although an integrated team can be implemented within various organizational structures, new practices and norms must be enacted to create this deliberate practice. Team members must be emotionally capable of connecting to other team members, psychologically able to tolerate substantial ambiguity, and cognitively attuned to the organization's strategic aims.
The integrated team concept is then cascaded down and throughout the organization by continuing the approach and identifying liaisons who serve as connecting agents between departments and silos. These liaisons and coordinating mechanisms allow for cross-organizational communication and collaboration.
Integrated teams prepare well-rounded, cross-trained leaders, resulting in a more flexible and responsive organization that is far more than the sum of its parts. A real-life example of this is the 2004 Detroit Pistons, which arguably had no superstar players. Despite this lack, these underdogs won the 2004 NBA finals, beating the heavily favored LA Lakers led by superstars Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal.
Foundational principles of integrated teams
Despite the many benefits of integrated teams, implementing them requires certain foundational principles to be in place:
Open the channels. Effective integrated teams require a culture of open and honest communication. Chief among the topics to discuss are trust and dependability among the group. Disagreements need to be addressed and navigated explicitly, not covertly. A culture of open communication across a broader span than the typical organizational chart is also necessary when integrated teams are implemented. Similarly, decisions need to be processed vertically (up and down the organizational hierarchy) and horizontally (with peers and leaders across the organization). Team members need to own the decisions of the team.
Focus on "we." The essence of the integrated team is the elimination of silos in favor of collective attention to and concern for the whole. This means team members must look for ways to support the other members' goals, and this orientation toward the collective must also carry through into language. Team members must resist the urge to speak in "us" and "them" terms anywhere in the organization.
Slow down to speed up. A vital benefit of the integrated team is incorporating the well-being of the entire organization. However, it takes time to gain an understanding of the big picture so that appropriate departmental plans can be developed.
Exchange machinery for biology. A common metaphor for firms is viewing the organization as a machine. When the organization is conceptualized this way, it is designed and managed primarily as discrete parts and roles. The problem is that a machine is simply a combination of multiple instrumental functions; there is no awareness of the whole. In contrast, the metaphor of the firm as a living organism acknowledges that organizations are more like biological systems. They are animated entities activated by people. It follows that each part relies on the other, interacts with and influences the other, and adds to a synergistic and larger whole through a multiplying effect.
Emphasize role agility. For integrated teams to work, a culture of role flexibility must be instilled within the organization. In such environments, leaders accept the normality of occupying more than one position or specialty in one's career. Accordingly, leaders must have expertise in multiple areas and progress through various roles rather than occupy lifetime or terminal positions. The goal of integration, organizationally speaking, is agility and capability. Humanly speaking, the goal is personal well-being and flourishing.
Implementing integrated teams is more than a tactic. Instead, it acknowledges that a single leader can never see the whole in its entirety. This requires humility to recognize that a team of teams is needed to see the whole. Integrated teams produce a more creative and synergistic context for work to occur. When the entire team is pulling for each other personally and for coordinated work on a professional level, the whole is greater than the work of each constitutive part working independently.