Which Team Do You Put First?

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Not finance. Not strategy. Not technology. It is teamwork that remains the ultimate competitive advantage, both because it is so powerful and so rare.”  – Patrick Lencioni

As an individual contributor working as part of a team, it’s clear that the people you interact with on a daily basis are your primary or ‘first’ team, and your first priority.

What many managers often fail to recognize however is that this changes when you lead a team: Ironically, the team you lead is no longer your first team, or indeed your first priority. While this concept may seem counterintuitive, it is actually a critical part of building a healthy and functioning organization.

 Confused? Ok, let’s start with an example: A software engineer is promoted to a manager position. They are now leading the team they used to be ‘in’. As part of their new role, they also start meeting regularly with their peers – in this case other engineering managers – and will exchange best practice, contribute to broader engineering initiatives, and so on. That group of peers is now their first team. Their reports have become their second team.

This might seem subtle, but it is actually a really important shift in mindset. When you commit to a first team, you are putting the needs of that team first. You’ll do what it takes for that team to be successful, which will include sharing knowledge and allocating resources accordingly. If, then, you put the needs of the team you manage before the needs of your peers, this can lead to problems like knowledge or talent hoarding, for example, where you’re putting your own self-interest above theirs, retaining or competing for resources at their expense. That’s how dreaded ‘silos’ are created – organizational black holes from which nothing escapes!

This all becomes much clearer when you scale it up to the executive leadership team, where each member will typically represent a major function like Products, Operations, Sales, Finance or HR. If each executive prioritizes their individual function over the others, they will make decisions that are optimized at the functional level, not the organizational level, and overall organizational health will suffer, sometimes catastrophically. 

Recognizing and committing to the right first team can be very hard for a manager. Your loyalty will naturally be to the people you hired, spend most of your time with, and probably have the most in common with. And certainly nothing we’ve said here negates the management responsibilities you have to build, develop and grow that team. But the success of the company depends on your ability to recognize and put your first team…first.

Analysis of our aggregated Whole-Mind Manager data shows that many managers struggle to make this shift in mindset. If you’d like to know more about how Whole-Mind Management can unlock more potential in your team and organization, visit our website.

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