Top 6 Ways to Get Business Execs and Techs Working Together

Last Updated Aug 18, 2008 2:52 PM EDT

Even the upper echelon can work in a team.GigaOM had a good post over the weekend about the top five ways business executives fail to work effectively with product and engineering execs, and that respect, ethics, determination, discipline and humility can solve the problem. I'd agree with that â€" you don't necessarily need a technical person at the top (though an affinity for technology is a smart thing to seek in a high tech CEO). But I think they missed the boat a bit. In describing the problems, consultants Kevin Fortuna and Marty Abbott were specific, which makes it easier to see a situation for what it is. I think the following six positive habits for executives would be a good counterweight:
  • Make Customers the Framework -- One problem facing organizations is the silo-nature of departments and competing interests that result. The only way to solve a problem is to get above it. Use the interests of customers to help bring everyone up and focusing on a common goal. This will also help establish a common language.
  • Use Collective Problem Solving -- Technical personnel love the concept of solving a problem. So do marketers, salespeople, factory managers, and finance people. All successful business people I've met get a charge out of finding a sticky spot and fixing it, only they do so in different areas and often don't relate their experiences to someone else's. Instead of using a top-down directive model of leadership, build on what everyone has to offer. If marketing thinks that a product needs to be out before a given date to beat competitors, then phrase it that way to engineers and ask how they could see to solve the problem.
  • Ask Open-Ended Questions When one person says something, don't be afraid to push back with respect and ask something as simply as why or how. It may be that someone is immediately reacting with a "no" to avoid doing something he or she doesn't wish to do. Or it might be that there are issues you don't realize. By asking open ended questions, you help yourself to hear better and others to communicate more clearly. The better the communication, the more likely it is that the company will meet its goals.
  • Be Generous in Recognition and Reward A company cannot succeed on the strength of one group. A great product won't let people know it exists. Marketing without product or service substance turns into customer resentment. So this is a case where both success and failure are everyone's children. Don't provide a lavish recognition for one department at the expense of another. Reward everyone together. That helps create a team spirit and increases the chance that individuals from different groups will look forward to working with each other. Similarly, don't ask people to sacrifice and never give them a return of their investment in time. Even if they do work at a company, they have lives outside the office. To the degree they are expected to invest what should be their own time, they must feel that they see something as a result.
  • Give Everyone the Right Something to Aim For Talented people of all stripes and backgrounds don't work simply for the money, because they could do that, or make that, anywhere. Make sure that every person on a project or effort has a bigger reason to participate, and take into account each one's inclinations. The thrill of a landing a deal could be excitement to a salesperson and dull to an engineer. Even better is to offer a range of goals, some that are personal challenges and others that require employees to think in terms beyond themselves and to need the entire organization to succeed.
  • Embrace Mistakes The time for punishing people for mistakes should be long past in business. Yes, there are things that a company might not want to tolerate, but most missteps are a result of institutional factors and the essential of business that companies take risks with success no guarantee. Reduce the fear factor of error, and you increase the option of honesty and creative solutions to problems. An organization will only learn from facing its mistakes and finding solutions, not from blaming people, which is a way of pretending that the company could make no mistake itself, and, hence, has nothing to learn.
1910 Harvard football team photo via Flickr site of the Library of Congress, public domain image.
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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.