How to Build Teams While Breaking Organizational Silos

People often talk about the need to “break down organizational silos” or “enable more cross-functional collaboration” within a company. Sounds great! But it’s easier said than done.

People often talk about the need to “break down organizational silos” or “enable more cross-functional collaboration” within a company. Sounds great! But it’s easier said than done.

Consultants have spilled a lot of ink debating where analytics, customer data, e-commerce, or user experience functions should ideally live within organizations. I don’t participate in those philosophical debates, nor do I have a strong point of view on what should live where. (In fact, I think it’s naive and irresponsible to imagine that all Chief Marketing, Chief Product, Chief Technology, or Chief Experience Officers have similar skills or budgets.)

Instead, I’ve observed several factors that consistently predict success or failure when companies crack open legacy organizational designs.

  1. Do an organization’s leaders honestly share a clear understanding of their respective roles and responsibilities? If not, start there! Set aside ego and entitlement. Focus on the strengths, capabilities, and passions of both the leaders AND their teams. Look past conventional titles and seek opportunities where someone a level or two down might thrive, given responsibility for a critical function. (Is there someone the team naturally looks to for help with an emerging capability?) Ask, “Who is most likely to be successful with this function? What will they need to improve their odds?”
  2. Have leaders broadly communicated their respective roles and responsibilities in a manner that conveys alignment and shared priorities? Drafting and peer-reviewing such communication is an excellent way to ensure leaders are genuinely on the same page. You don’t need a full responsibility matrix. Directly comparing teams’ duties is usually enough to surface gray areas and blind spots in advance. (For example: “We agree that Marketing ultimately owns pricing and packaging decisions, while Product is responsible for designing an effective checkout flow. How might we identify similarly ‘bright lines’ around the broader user journey?”)
  3. Are leaders candidly revisiting these “operating agreements” on a cadence that’s consistent with the pace of the business? Are they soliciting and understanding feedback from the ‘rank and file’ about points of confusion or unintended friction? Military strategists know that “no battle plan survives contact with the enemy.” Leaders will need to adapt even the best-planned approach. The key is to promptly, transparently, and humbly articulate what’s working, what’s not, and what will change.
  4. Are “borders” defined well enough that teams can intuitively address “jump balls” without losing momentum or consulting a referee? When you empower teams to make autonomous decisions — and that often means sharing more information than you’re comfortable with — it can be a real accelerator and force multiplier. Think of all the emails, conversations, and meetings that can be skipped when teams confidently understand leadership’s intent.
  5. Have leaders reviewed each other’s high-level goals? Even the appearance of conflicting objectives risks creating toxic divisions between teams. Avoid this at all costs. Explicitly encourage everyone to escalate perceived strategic collisions. Then quickly and transparently address any concerns. Use data, research, and customer feedback to turn potential “turf battles” into clear opportunities. (For example: “On the surface, it may seem like we can’t improve our user experience while also maintaining our advertising revenue. However, we believe we can achieve both with faster-loading web pages. We’ll clarify to teams that we aim to add genuine value for both our consumers and our advertisers.”)

When you reorganize or change teams’ responsibilities, it’s naturally disorienting to employees, suppliers, and sometimes your customers. By approaching it with a servant leader’s mindset, regularly assessing effectiveness, and communicating clearly and often, you’ll boost your likelihood of success… whether your ultimate business objective is reacting to supply chain constraints, adapting to changing consumer demand, or becoming more customer-focused.

This post originally appeared as an article on LinkedIn.

The Dark Side of ‘Game of Thrones’ for Marketing

The use of “A Game of Thrones” in content marketing is a subject you could write a book about. I’ve seen infographics, case studies and even post-episode recaps; usually because a PR person threw them at my feet (which is not unwelcome, even if I don’t get to talk about most of them). One I received recently jumped out at me like a whitewalker on a dragon glass roof, because I realized there’s a deep dark side to all of these marketing metaphors.

"Game Of Thrones – The Story Of Marketing" by Agile CRM.
“Game Of Thrones – The Story Of Marketing” by Agile CRM.

The use of “A Game of Thrones” in content marketing is a subject you could write a book about. I’ve seen infographics, case studies and even post-episode recaps, usually because a PR person threw them at my feet (which is not unwelcome, even if I don’t get to talk about most of them). One I received recently jumped out at me like a whitewalker on a dragon glass roof. It made me realized, there’s a deep dark side to all of these “A Game of Thrones” marketing metaphors.

Here’s the image in question, put together by Agile CRM, which you can see in context here.

It’s a nice infographic. Decently put together, easy to read. Reasonable character choices.

But Game of Thrones is not a reasonable show. Every character has a dark side (whether they bring the darkness, or someone else forces it upon them). And looking at those dark sides, I think, creates some pretty interesting metaphors for marketing teams, too!

So let’s take a properly George R.R. Martin point of view on these roles and flip the coin over to the side that says valar morghulis, starting from the top of the org chart: CMO.

Tyrion Lannister is the CMO because he know things, everything. Which is true. But he’s also in exile with a drinking problem because he couldn’t get along with the c-suite (who he shot with a crossbow on the toilet, by the way). Now he’s working as a consultant for the only other team that would hire him, in a world without AA.

A Game of Thrones Tyrion DrunkJon Snow is the marketing manager because he makes sure every marketing plan is a success. He’s also the Night’s Watch’s hero. … Except the Night’s Watch murdered him — knives to the belly after he was lured out by the intern. Sure he came back to finish off that one last project he cared about, but then he walked out and took half the production staff with him (to a project we have to admit was a slaughter, but pyrrhic victories still count).

Daenerys Targaryen is the creative manager, because she’s introducing a new ruling system to the Seven Kingdoms. Not mentioned: she also has the world’s only dragons — bright, fiery, new ideas no one else could possibly have! … And they remained locked in a cave for far too long because no one could figure out what to do with them … and they were eating some children in the countryside. (There’s a metaphorical innovation dilemma to talk out at your next company retreat: Can you unleash your dragons without having them consume the children of everyone else in the company?) Also, while she’s the brightest bulb in the whole show, she’s clearly handling too much responsibility and it’s blocking effective use of her creativity.

Web designer: Cersei Lannister. That’s an interesting spot to put someone known for inappropriate relationships and burning things to the ground. I might have gone with creative director for her explosive ideas and disregard for collateral damage.

A Game of Thrones Cersei Lannister SmugSansa Stark, email marketing manager, sends the right message. Those are skills she learned while being threatened and held hostage by half the power brokers on the show. And she’s somehow managed to keep the list robust enough to help take back her ancestral home. Not a bad fit!

Social media strategist: Varys, master of (child) spies. Varys is perhaps the least honest character on the show, always hiding both his ends and means behind an impenetrable screen of anonymous “little birds” and board room obfuscation. No one else knows what he does or how to do it themselves, and it turns out he’s been working against their goals this whole time.  Who knew?!

SEO manager: Margaery Tyrell, because she’s always on the lookout for the perfect keyword. She’s also been the bride of a series of sometimes underage and always prematurely dead kings. She was imprisoned by the church for alleged black-hat behaviors, yet found a way to rise back to the top by shifting content strategy and embracing their new algorithm. [SPOILER ALERT] She was wiped out in one of Cersei Lannister’s creative fireballs. (Maybe a sudden shift in keyword strategy?)

Content manager: Arya Stark. Blind assassin who keeps an enemies list and turns on her trainers right after they’ve taught her everything she needs to know to do it on her own? Most recently seen hacking a man’s own sons into meat pies and feeding them to him with a smile? That’s another interesting choice.

The PR team: Missandei and Grey Worm. It’s true they do manage relationships and image for Daenerys, so we’ll ignore the fact that the one’s a humorless eunuch named Grey Worm.

And finally, we have marketing analyst Bran Stark, who desperately wants to make a mark if he can stop making silly mistakes. The flip side is he can’t walk without another team member carrying him, spends most of his time staring blankly into space, and fell so deeply into watching videos that it got the team member who was helping him eaten alive. His power is the ability to become someone else! So he’s got that going for him, which is nice.

A Game of Thrones Bran ScaredMetaphors are fun! Just don’t take them too seriously.

Valar Morghulis.