How many times have you cursed the silos in your organization? Do you wonder what keeps people from putting on their “best answer for the team” hats? Why do individual comp plans get in the way of creating excellent business for the long term?
I’d say we don’t spend enough time quilting.
Stay with me here. When you set out to make a unique and beautiful quilt, you start with a pile of fabrics—the raw material. You choose a range of colors and patterns that complement each other, and a few really unusual ones to provide punch.
That’s exactly the way we put together wonderful teams. The best ones are diverse and complementary with a few contrarians in the mix. Spectacular raw materials.
A smashing quilt has design. I am not talking about paint by numbers here, but you have to have some idea of the broad strokes. It’s like a business model. You wouldn’t want to try to lock down every detail, but you absolutely must have a grip on the essentials.
We take our raw material and our design and begin putting pieces in place. For a quilt, we’re often making blocks; in an organization, we’re establishing business units, policies, and processes. Each one takes advantage of some of our wonderful raw material and has its own internal beauty. It makes sense; it works.
This is where things get interesting, both for quilting and for organizations. Let me start with quilting. Picture yourself with a stack of 200 individual blocks, each one unique, painstakingly crafted, and beautiful in its own right. Your job is to arrange them in a way that makes an exquisite whole cloth. There is no blueprint. It’s time for synthesis. As a quilter, this is the moment I live for. No experience is more exhilarating and satisfying. The result is always—yes, always—better than I ever dreamed.
Now for organizations… I believe that too often, we as leaders stop short. We gather the raw materials—our amazing people. We craft the blocks—our business units and processes. But we fail to put the pieces together. We pretend the units will carry the business as separate silos—no whole cloth. Perhaps even sadder, we miss the chance to experience, with our people, those moments of synthesis where we are, together, better than we ever dreamed.
Leaders who don’t stop short stick out like a sore thumb. Their organizations broadcast a categorically different feel, and, by the way, they perform at a level that seems near impossible. These leaders are among us, and if you ask yourself who they are, I’ll bet you can readily name them. If you’ve read this far, you are likely to be one of them.
I hope this makes you smile. I hope it serves as a gentle nudge to keep doing what you do so well. It matters.