You can hear it through the halls of many organizations—particularly large ones with long histories. It’s a divisive word used all too often in business: department. The very nature of this word creates invisible lines between people in an organization. It creates a territorial feeling of one group of people posturing for their view of the world, often times to the detriment of another group of people.
A quick Google search reveals a formal definition that’s not so bad: “a division of a large organization such as a government, university, business, or shop, dealing with a specific subject, commodity, or area of activity.” However, within the same Google search one can easily find a description that underpins one of the main reasons for my personal dislike of the word.
“That’s not my department”
When departmental lines are drawn, it becomes much easier to shirk responsibility and play the blame game when things don’t go according to plan.
The concept of team is something that appeals much more to me. Maybe it’s because I’m a sports fan and generally understand all the analogies that come with it, but I honestly believe there are strong parallels between business and sport when it comes to teamwork and building something amazing.
I like to use the Vegas Golden Knights inaugural season in the NHL as an example. Expectations were low coming into the season. They were a team created from an expansion draft process. A team composed of primarily second-string players that had no business accomplishing what they did during the regular season.
With no bona fide superstars to lean on (sure, some emerged during the season), these players came together as a strong team, all bringing their unique skill sets together to create something quite magical. Egos were put aside and the team’s sights were set on a common goal.
Each player on the team has a primary role—snipers, playmakers, shutdown defensive specialists, and enforcers to name a few. Some of the most memorable moments happen when players contribute outside of their typical roles, like when a defensive specialist scores an overtime winner or the playmaker drops the gloves to give their team a boost. And you can be sure no hockey team refers to the offence or defence as departments.
In an agency, this thought holds true. Our business is one of teamwork and collaboration. Sure, there are specialized skill sets brought by unique and talented individuals, but it’s the collective minds working together as a team that solve interesting problems with creative solutions. Great ideas can come from anywhere, but as soon as the word department is introduced it inevitably creates feelings, whether conscious or subconscious, of an ‘us versus them’ environment and stifles the creative potential of any team.
I believe the concept of team should be embedded into the culture of every organization. And this starts with using the word team, believing that every person has something meaningful to contribute, and ensuring everyone on that team is working towards a common goal.