Shared Work Not Shared Goals Unlock Collaboration

Shared  Work  unlocks collaboration

Shared Work unlocks collaboration

So far in my podcasts, we’ve talked about intentional collaboration and how to get the attention of achievement-driven individuals so that they’ll collaborate when appropriate. There’s a common fallacy that shared goals is how you do that. Goals motivate people, right? So wouldn’t it make sense that goals would do the same for people collaborating? I learned at Mars that it’s not so. Goals matter, but they don’t motivate collaboration.

Here’s a simplified example to demonstrate this point. I was working with the Mars Walmart team in Bentonville, AK. At the Bentonville office all three Mars businesses had sales teams. There was a team for pet care, a team for confectionery and a team for the food business, which was basically Uncle Ben’s rice products.

For the coming year the overall team had an annual growth goal of 6%. Each of the business had their own had their own goals, too. Uncle Ben’s was introducing a hot new product, Ready Rice, so they had the highest growth target percentage, around 20%. However, Uncle Ben’s products made up only one tenth of Mars’s business with Walmart, so their 20% growth would contribute a relatively small dollar amount. Pet care and Confectionery had lower percentage numbers, both around 6%, but they each had far larger annual sales. Regardless of the product-specific targets, the idea was that when you added up all the growth across all the Walmart businesses, it would equal 6% revenue growth when compared to the previous year.

The leader, a smart, dynamic guy, announced the team’s new shared goal at a year-end meeting, generating lots of excitement among team members. What did they do in response to this goal? What you would expect. Starting the following month the confectionery person worked her tail off driving sales and special promotions. The pet care lead did much the same thing. The Uncle Ben’s person got lucky; Ready Rice was flying off the shelves and they were able to make their numbers easily. In fact, it went so well that come Q4, year-on-year growth was 7%. What a win!

So of course, that December they celebrated taking the entire office out for a holiday dinner with an open bar. All over the restaurant you could hear them congratulate each other, saying, “What a great team we are! We totally crushed it!”

Were they really a great “team” though? Where was the teamwork? That 7% growth was the effect of extraordinary individual efforts that, when added up, equaled their “shared goal”. That’s what I mean when I say that shared goals drive individual effort, not collaboration.

I did some consulting to GM back in the ‘90s so let’s contrast the Walmart story with the way a car design team works. On a cross-functional team like this you might find a car designer partnering with an electrical engineer, a mechanical engineer, a finance person, a marketing person and a salesperson, and so on. They work together to design and build, a fully integrated, affordable car that car dealers and consumers will love and that will earn good margins for the company. Collaboration is essential to achieving their goal of a car that will meet all those requirements. The goal matters but it’s the interdependent way their work is set up that makes their collaboration irresistible.

Collaboration isn’t always needed. There are times when you can achieve your goal most effectively via a collection of individual efforts. When you do require collaboration, though, don’t look to shared goals to do the trick. As useful as shared goals are - they help work groups know what success looks like – they don’t unlock more or better teamwork.  You need shared work to do that.

In the car design team, the need to share the work was clear. How do we clarify the nature of shared work in teams where it’s not so straight forward? How do we make appropriate collaboration irresistible to team members in all kinds of organizations? In the next blog post will address that.

Carlos Valdes-Dapena