4 Reasons Why We Shouldn't Work in a Departmental Vacuum

This is Part I of the "Breaking Down Departmental Barriers" series. The articles in the series are:

I. 4 Reasons Why We Shouldn't Work in a Departmental Vacuum (You are here)

II. Eliminating the Departmental Mindset: 4 Ways it Helps Sales, Product and Operations Teams

III. 4 Tested Ways for Amazing Collaboration with Sales & Product

I was having a bad day. Our sales team seemingly made a deal with a client that is obviously a bad fit for our software, and now the new client is in our onboarding queue. My mentor, I'll call him "L", and I had the following exchange (paraphrased, of course) after a meeting with our sales team went nowhere:

Me: This is another example of Sales going completely rogue, and everyone downstream is going to get screwed.

L: Okay, what did you do before this client got to you to ensure that you wouldn't get screwed?

Me: What could I do? It's part of the sales process. I'm not a part of the sales process.

L: Well, that's your problem. You don't get to complain if you didn't get involved.

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Me: ...

As blunt as his message was, my mentor had an incredibly valid point. Professional Services was not part of the sales process, and I took that reality and established it as unchangeable. If I didn't proactively get involved in the sales process, who am I to criticize the result that comes out of the process? We're all human, and unless a subset has developed mind-reading capabilities in the last few years, it's impossible for someone to understand our perspective unless we voice it. A major lesson I internalized that day was: we should never work in a departmental vacuum. I caught myself saying "it's not my job" one too many times, and instead what I should have been doing was to take interest in the other parts of the business adjacent to my own.

There is a number of very compelling reasons why we should avoid working in a vacuum and start reaching out, participating across organizational disciplines, and getting to know what everyone is executing on:

1. Minimize surprise - Perhaps the most selfish reason is to minimize the surprise that lands on our desk by understanding the pipeline from sales and BD. At a minimum, getting informed first-hand of what is happening at the business development level will allow us to properly plan and mentally prepare for what is about to happen.

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2. See Things from a Different Perspective - I am a firm believer that a diversity of voices is a recipe for good decision making. We can always make assumptions on what differing opinions and stances may be, but why make assumptions when we can bring into the room people who are passionate about a differing point of view? A diversity of voices ensures that we capture opinions that we simply are not aware of so we can make decisions without unintended consequences. 

3. Build better solutions that go beyond our own limitations - If we are humble enough to realize that we are generalists in an organization of specialists, then it only makes sense to bring in colleagues from other teams who are stronger than we are to help us build great solutions for our clients? Why settle for a mediocre solution that we can dream up when working with others can produce a better solution for our clients?

4. Deliver With, not For, our Colleagues - Organizations that are siloed tend to foster teams that are focused on delivering for their colleagues rather than working with them. That's bad because it ends up with us not caring about what happens after we deliver something down the pipeline. A good solution requires everyone to buy in and participate. If we're just delivering, we don't care to participate after we've handed off our work to someone else. 

Getting out of our departmental comfort zone makes us stronger, not weaker. Resist the temptation to work alone thinking we are the only group of people capable of coming up with the best solution and advice for our clients. Be humble and gain a greater perspective, and your clients will thank you for it.