Mick and Keith. Elton and Bernie. George and Ira (okay, just checking to see how old you all might be). Words and music. You get the idea.
Design and Marketing.
I’m not necessarily suggesting that, to make a cross-functional toy team work, you need great collaboration between the Design and Marketing leaders, composing and performing in alignment. Wait a minute. Yes, that’s exactly what I am suggesting.
Years of experience, both good and bad, have taught me that ensuring the team’s Design and Marketing leaders are aligned is the secret to success. Ideally, these two roles should be seen as ‘equal’ in the organization – at least in the eyes of the team members. This relationship works best when the two are seen as partners, not superior/subordinate.
Back at the old company, and many years ago, I took over the Marketing reins on a large, important vehicles brand. (Think, you know, fiery.) My Design counterpart was an incredibly talented, longtime toy veteran – with a reputation for driving his ideas, and his team, hard. We eyed each other warily in the early going, and then had a breakthrough: on a critical product call in front of the entire team, I offered my hearty opinion, and was met with a stern, ‘No offense, but that’s a Design call.’ Hours later, my counterpart offered up a salty view of one of our marketing program elements, and I stopped short, commenting, ‘Hey. That’s a Marketing call.’ And the die was cast. (Rim shot.)
From that point forward, we ‘took it outside.’ Alone, we could argue, disagree, and hash through the issues. But in front of the team, we showed alignment. We still didn’t agree on everything, and didn’t hide it – but pretty much we stood shoulder to shoulder on the big stuff.
This simple step had the remarkable effect of driving alignment all the way through the team. We displayed respect for each other’s functional expertise, we communicated as partners, and (bonus!) we acted as if we were enjoying it. Which we were, immensely.
In two years, our U.S. business doubled. And the team became a laboratory for functional excellence. At one point, I made a bad hiring decision in Marketing; trying to get the team to accept that person was like watching a healthy organism working to expel a virus. They knew he wouldn’t fit…well before I knew it.
For me, the lesson learned was about the importance of modeling the behavior you want to see: my counterpart and I demonstrated daily what we expected to have happen, and the team rose up to meet us – and ultimately succeed us. I was proud of what we accomplished, but the best part was how proud they were. Years later, I had the opportunity to replicate the lesson on the same brand, ensuring the Marketing and Design leaders were eyeball to eyeball and on equal footing. And the team responded with the most outstanding products and programs in the brand’s history.
As it turned out, that was some pretty beautiful music.