Moving Through Cross-Functional Mindset Differences on Work Teams—Starting the Conversation

I think that most of the important work that is done in organizations these days is done by teams. Even if people are not all sitting together in a room working simultaneously, their work is shared with others, revised, edited, informed, poked, prodded, enhanced, refined or otherwise manipulated into a product that features input from a number of people. And almost always, those other people think somewhat differently than we do. Maybe that’s because of where they’re from, or where they’ve worked, or how they’ve been trained, or the experience they’ve had in this organization or prior organizations, their age/generation, etc. In other words, their mindsets are different based on their background and experience.


In my work, I have often seen the impact of these mindset differences. And, importantly, another area of meaningful mindset difference is based on our functions. To be very clear, I am generalizing in making this observation. Not all finance people are sticklers for detail, and not all marketing people operate in the world of possibilities and potential. But many of them do—much to the dismay of people with other functional backgrounds. I think most of us would agree that organizations are much better off with the diversity of functional mindsets providing input into decision-making, idea generation, execution and other critical aspects of organizational success. But these differences can cause problems.

Have you ever been frustrated because someone across the table from you, or in one of your important meetings, rejects an idea on the basis of their legal regulatory experience? Or have you ever been flustered by someone on the team who insists that something can be done without providing any specifics about how? These are examples of cross-functional mindset challenges.


So what might we do about it? How can we work better together, have more shared success, as well as retain our sanity?

First, slow down, breathe and recognize that differences are part of our shared human experience, whether that’s convenient for us or not. Remember that those people across the table are almost always good human beings who are participating in a way that they believe is useful and effective, from the point of view of their function and their experience.

Second, take action to understand their priorities—the interests that underlie their positions. When you hear a “no” that feels like a door slamming, ask for a few reasons why that answer was given. Ask what would have to be true in order for you to hear a “yes” instead. There are other useful questions you could ask, of course. The important thing is to listen carefully to the responses. Doing so will not only provide a basis for understanding the other person’s thinking but also will very importantly provide you with key information about how to frame your response to them, such as a new proposal or suggestion.


Of course, this is easy to read here in a short blog and harder to do when the clock is ticking, the pressure is on, and we want to be finished with this conversation yesterday. Hang in there; make an effort. Perhaps others in the room will recognize how you are trying to move past differences and promote greater understanding and better results. They can join in as well. Share your intention with them and let your team know what you were trying to do and why. Chances are they will get on board.

Balancing Personal Accountability with Compassion – Part 2

72896357A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to facilitate a conversation on “Balancing Personal Accountability with Compassion” at the Wisdom 2.0 Conference in San Francisco. The experience was at the same time encouraging, engaging, and informative.  I appreciate the opportunity to lead an open conversation with 125 interested participants!

In my experience, people know what it means to take personal accountability and what it means to be compassionate; they have worked with leaders who demonstrate one or both of these qualities. Taking personal accountability is still an appropriately prized leadership quality; after all, leaders take personal responsibility for results and “get it done”. But compassion in leadership is less common.

Continue reading “Balancing Personal Accountability with Compassion – Part 2”

Balancing Accountability with Compassion


Whenever I start to write about leadership or qualities of leadership, I hear the voices of many colleagues and clients who have diverse (and sometimes opposing) opinions.

Although leadership means (many) different things to different people, one thing I think most everyone can agree on is that leadership means being accountable for results. Leaders don’t take the position of “it’s not my problem”. If they see a problem, they handle it. Or they take some action toward addressing it. That type of mindset in action drives results, and provides stability and reliability – you can count on that person to ‘get the job done’. I don’t think that organizations can survive without a minimum threshold of accountability in their culture, particularly at the leadership level. Being accountable is good.

But effective leaders need more than that ‘push’ of personal accountability to be successful. They need compassion. They need to connect with people, support and encourage people. When we come to work we want to be recognized for who we are as people, as well as for our contributions. We want to be inspired and invited. And we want to be treated as more than human ‘resources’. Demonstrating compassion, which I could define here as real caring for people and their concerns, helps achieves this. For that reason I believe that compassion can be a powerful element of a workplace culture. Compassion is a force for good.

Continue reading “Balancing Accountability with Compassion”

The 18th Camel

Businesswoman standing on a ladder looking through binocularsThe story is told of a father who left 17 camels as the inheritance for his three sons.

When the father passed away, his sons opened up the will. It stated that the eldest son should get half of 17 camels while the middle son should be given one third. The youngest son should be given one ninth of the 17 camels.

The sons were furious. “It isn’t possible to divide 17 in half, or by three, or by nine!” and they started to fight with each other. After the venting of anger and frustration abated, the three sons decided to go to a wise man for assistance.

The wise man listened patiently about the will, then reflected for some time. He left the three sons, returning with a camel of his own, which he added to the group of 17, thereby increasing the total to 18 camels.

He then read the deceased father’s will to the three sons:

Half of 18 equals nine; so he gave the eldest son nine camels.

One third of 18 equals 6; so he gave the middle son six camels.

One ninth of 18 equals two; so he gave the youngest son two camels.

Nine plus six plus two equals 17, so there was one camel left, which the wise man took back home.

So what’s the lesson here? A key aspect of constructive negotiation is to find the “18th Camel”, i.e., the creative solution outside of the once-presumed-finite possibilities. Once a person is able to find the “18th Camel”, possibilities open and issues can more easily be resolved.

The first and perhaps most critical step in reaching a solution is to hold the mindset that there can be a mutually satisfying solution that we need not be limited by our current thinking. While having that mindset doesn’t guarantee a solution, not having it will ensure stagnancy and limit options. The invitation, then, is to open our thinking to promote and allow fresh thinking and new options into the negotiation conversations- and move forward with that constructive mindset.

What are your experiences with creative solutions to conflicts? I welcome your stories and learnings.



About the author

Andrew is Axialent Faculty Network Member. For over 20 years he has worked globally as a consultant, facilitator, coach and problem-solver for businesses and individuals. Andrew’s work improves his clients’ business results and culture, and enhances individual performance and satisfaction. Andrew brings clarity to complex problems. He helps focus leaders at all levels on what matters most and how to effectively act on it. Read more >



Diversity and Inclusion – It’s the How, Not Just the Who, That Matters

2dQsoMMIn my work, I put a lot of emphasis on clarity and the use of words. Maybe it’s because I was a lawyer before I transitioned into leadership and organizational consulting. And we lawyers can be picky about words.

In my experience, organizations often misunderstand what “Diversity” and “Inclusion” mean in terms of their business.  Diversity is the “who” in the workforce; what is the composition of our employee population? By contrast, inclusion is the “how”; to what extent are people involved, contributing, and present? How fully are people engaged?

“Diversity” used to be, in the US anyway, corporate code for compliance. It was about whether the organization had “enough” variety in terms of gender/race/sexual orientation/other (legally protected demographic) employees on the payroll. Diversity was perceived as about numbers. It was about who are employees were. If we pay attention to the demographics, our business will be better.

That is outdated, 20th-century thinking, for two reasons.

First, when organizations think about the who in their workforce now, it’s not just about the categories of people who are legally protected- it is not about compliance. A diverse workforce is about a wide range of meaningful differences among people, including culture, generations, thinking styles, work experiences, and more. The narrow definition creates confusion.

Second, and more importantly, diversity in the workforce does not necessarily make for a more productive/effective workforce. Working on teams is usually more difficult (at the outset, at least) with people who think differently and have different backgrounds. To use a simple metaphor, it is often harder to have everyone playing from the same sheet of music if people read the music differently. So it’s not who is there that matters, it’s how they show up at work. How fully are people contributing? Do they feel recognized for their efforts and accomplishments? Are they connected to the result of their work? Are they included in decision-making and planning related to their work? And the answers to these questions are all about inclusion and engagement.

As companies continue to operate more globally and more remotely, relying upon the efforts of an increasingly diverse workforce, they are recognizing the need to engage their people as fully as possible. Everyone needs to be participating, particularly in a challenging economy where lean workforces are the norm.  A disengaged workforce is a luxury that very few companies can afford.

For example, a client of mine in the pharmaceutical industry grew rapidly in the last ten years, operating increasingly in a more global, segmented structure. R&D was on one continent, while manufacturing and marketing operations were on another. Not surprisingly, communications from the different regions were often different. There were functional differences, such as in communication (frequency, tone, timing, etc.). And there were also cultural differences, for example with regard to expectations (hierarchy in reporting relationships, how employees are recognized, etc.). These differences were contributing to breakdowns in communication, inefficiencies, and at times outright conflict. The diversity of the workforce became a series of practical challenges that had to be managed.

In order to move from diversity to inclusion- and thereby to engagement, we developed a process for identifying, surfacing, and discussing how to accommodate and leverage differences in order to drive alignment and improve productivity. This connected to a framework for team alignment, with clear lines of sight to departmental goals and company strategy. And this shift was driven by conversation within the organization’s working teams.

Because managing diversity is about having these conversations in practical, productive, and respectful ways, principles of Conscious Business can play an important role. For example, team members must be willing to take 100% responsibility for their contributions to team dynamics and productivity. They must be able to communicate clearly and respectfully across differences, while keeping connected through shared commitment to organizational effectiveness and personal   development. Perhaps most importantly, they must be willing and able to continue to engage with their colleagues in often-challenging dialogue, which requires a personal commitment to remain centered and involved. This is far easier said than done, but the investment of energy and time is well worth it, because the result is an increase in levels of inclusion, engagement and personal satisfaction.

So let’s shift the conversation and be clear about what matters. Let’s work consciously and purposefully to engage team members working hard in ever-shifting global organizations, acknowledging differences and working together as effectively as possible. By focusing on how we work together, we can be more fully engaged and more successful.



About the author

Andrew is Axialent Faculty Network Member. For over 20 years he has worked globally as a consultant, facilitator, coach and problem-solver for businesses and individuals. Andrew’s work improves his clients’ business results and culture, and enhances individual performance and satisfaction. Andrew brings clarity to complex problems. He helps focus leaders at all levels on what matters most and how to effectively act on it. Read more >



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