As organizations have shifted from the hierarchical to the horizontal model, management gurus have rushed to fill the vacuum . To wit: empowerment, reengineering, self-directed teams , knowledge management, the learning organizationwe have hardly scratched the surface! These and many other initiatives have been touted as the best way to achieve maximum energy and speed and, therefore, competitive advantage.
Here is the baseline point that can easily be missed in all the hubbub: The one competitive advantage that cannot be easily bought, imitated, or made obsolete is superior management of people and processes, including those that deal with conflict management. The best way for an organization to achieve this advantage is by creating and nurturing high-performance teams from the top down.
High-performance teams are in effect pools of synergy, designed to leverage talent by bringing together diverse viewpoints, experiences, judgments , and capabilities, along with essential information needed to resolve business issues. Diversity can open the floodgates of dysfunctional conflict, but not in high-performance teams, where open and direct conflict is characterized by the dynamic tension discussed in Chapter 1.
High-performance teams subvert traditional hierarchical organizations. The old top-down model, with its silo thinking, is swept away. Employees are asked, often for the first time, to assume individual and collective responsibility for business results. In effect, high-performance teams become mini boards of directors. The compass points of team members are more oriented to the customer than to their bosses and more toward "we" than toward "my function."
The senior management team should be the ultimate high-performance team in an organization. Even in the old hierarchical model, the CEO and his or her key lieutenants made up the one team that, at least on paper, was constituted to work cross-functionally. In horizontal organizations, cross-functional teams are empowered at many junctures.
We have worked with cross-functional brand and product teams, market teams, customer teams, product-development teamsand the list goes on. Masterfoods USA, for example, makes several brands of candy , including M&Ms and Snickers, as well as Uncle Ben's Rice and Pedigree, Whiskas, and Sheba pet foods . To support the company's product-focused strategy and brand structure, senior management has set up brand teams. Each team is responsible for solving problems and making decisions related to its particular brand. In contrast, the New Zealand Dairy Board, which is also product-focused, sells all its products under one brand name . Each of its cross-functional teams represents a single product linemilk, cheese, butter, or yogurtwithin that brand. On the other hand, Sara Lee Intimate Apparel, which sells numerous products to WalMart, K-Mart, and other giant retailers, has organized into customer-business teams in accord with its customer-centric strategy.
In each of these organizations, the business teams are made up of key players from every functional area that has a stake in the process or operation under consideration. It is the senior-management team's responsibility to decide which functions will be represented on a team. But no matter who sits on a team, they are all expected to work together and become accountable for high performance.