How to align your internal teams

When different departments all ‘speak the same language’, it can help a business to flourish. We asked experts and SME owners for advice on how to make it happen.

Last updated: 13 Nov 2019 6 min read

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A butterfly flaps its wings in sales, says small business growth expert Stefano Maifreni, and a short time later there’s a tornado in production or customer service. It’s a poetic way to illustrate that when something happens in one department, it can have a dramatic effect on another.

For most SME owners, upheaval like this is not the life they signed up for – misaligned teams can lead to conflict, nasty surprises, dissatisfied clients and, in a worst-case scenario, the end of a company. Maifreni, founder of consultancy Eggcelerate, says it’s far better to make sure all of your departments are singing from the same hymn sheet.

“Everything begins with top management,” he says. “Staff are like children – they won’t do what you say, they’ll do what you do. They mimic your behaviour, so if you want teams that communicate with each other, make sure you talk to them. Have your chief marketing officer and head of sales work together in the right way.” This synergy, Maifreni says, will filter down through the ranks.

Maifreni believes that a clear vision, values and mission statement can help unify teams. When widely communicated, they will give every member of staff an unwavering idea of how they – and their colleagues – should operate.

Having a company-wide vision and values can stop bonus-driven sales teams from pursuing bad deals that production will struggle to meet, says Maifreni. They can eradicate awkward moments where customer service has to sweep up the mess made by a marketing team that made claims a product doesn’t deliver on. “But you also need the right people who can make this happen,” he says. “If you hire someone who is a ruthless high achiever who doesn’t care about their colleagues, you’re going to have a problem.”

Staff at the heart of aligned teams

SME owners who have been fortunate enough to have handpicked their staff as the company has grown are often in the best position when it comes to having teams that are aligned – it’s something that Craig Rutherford, founder and CEO of UK Car Finance, profited from as his business expanded from a one-man operation four years ago to the 20-strong team it is today.

“As we grew, every new recruit had to be able to help out in other areas of the business, not just their own,” says Rutherford. “Despite our own personal areas of focus within the business, we all speak the same language when dealing with a customer.”

In earlier jobs, Rutherford had noticed sales and marketing teams often worked completely independently of one another with no real crossover. “Sometimes they were even in competition with one another,” he says.

“We make sure any new sales staff are fully aware of what the marketing team do, why they do it and how it affects their role and vice versa”Craig Rutherford, founder, UK Car Finance

Recognising the potential for disaster if he followed this route, Rutherford vowed to ensure that sales and marketing each understood the other’s role in the customer’s buying process and how they impacted upon each other. “We make sure any new sales staff are fully aware of what the marketing team do, why they do it and how it affects their role and vice versa,” he says. “Both teams are incentivised through commission and bonus structures, meaning that neither end feel like their efforts are not rewarded.”

Mixed-team ‘hit squads’

Richard Skellett, founder of global IT and technology solutions company Allied Worldwide, takes the challenge of keeping his dispersed teams in sync very seriously – so much so that he now promotes what he calls the ‘One Allied’ concept across the business. It’s being promoted in three main ways: internal communications and branding; increased cross-geography reporting (someone in Bangalore having a boss in the UK and vice-versa, for example); and getting people in different parts of the business and different parts of the world to work together as “hit squads” on an opportunity or a problem.

“We put together one hit squad to resolve some problems with our new customer service IT system,” says Skellett, “and it included people from all impacted areas of the business – from customer service and IT to HR, finance and operations. The people involved not only solved their problem, they’re now putting into practice a simple and very effective way of working together irrespective of seniority, role or location.”

It’s an approach that almost any business owner could replicate and profit from. By mixing up teams to work on a problem, you’re not only in with a very good chance of fixing the issue, but ensuring that conversation between departments is improved, too. “The more embedded such ways of working become, the more aligned the people in the business will be,” Skellett says.

Five things you can do today to help align your teams

Alex Moyle, author of the book Business Development Culture: Taking Sales Culture Beyond The Sales Team, and an expert on workplace collaboration, shares his top tips:

1. Know your purpose

“Work to ensure your company’s purpose is more than numbers and profits – it should be a statement of how you help your customers solve their problems or achieve their goals.”

2. Create a common language

“This should ensure there is one definition for a lead, a customer, a high potential customer and so on. A disconnect in language can mean marketing can think they are generating lots of leads, but in the mind of the sales team they are little more than names.”

3. Recognise assists

“Often, the most recognition goes to the deal closers – yet most of these ‘goal scorers’ depend heavily on assists from across the organisation. Take time to recognise the help they get from others.”

4. Open up the office

“Try and ensure that your sales and marketing team work in close proximity and spend time physically together. The better they know each other the less likely there’ll be rivalry between the two tribes.”

5. Stop trash-talking each other

“How often do you hear managers talking down other teams? While this can build loyalty within a team, it has a corrosive effect on how they interact and support each other.”

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