Robin Helweg-Larsen, President, Andromeda Training

Robin Helweg-Larsen, President, Andromeda Training

A joke I’ve made (but which sometimes gets me into trouble from which, I often try to extricate myself with the help of a Davenport attorney) is about how different departments in a company drive the company car.

The Finance Department is using a road map. They’ve got it opened up right over the windshield, so they have to steer by using the rearview mirror, with the hope that the curve in the road ahead is the same as the curve in the road behind them. They can’t see what is coming up, but they know exactly where they are going.

The Sales Department has no clue where they’re going. They’re hunched over the steering wheel, driving flat out, desperately swerving to avoid the potholes and chickens and little old ladies in the road. They may not know where they are going, but they expect to get there as fast as possible.

The Human Resources Department is less concerned with the forward movement of the car than with making sure that everyone is buckled in properly and that the kids are not fighting in the back seat. If they have to stop in order to sort things out, they’re prepared to.

And the R&D Department has the car back in the shop, up on the hoist. When they finish working on it, it will be magnificent – but you can’t have it yet!

The point is not that one of these is right, and the others are wrong. A company needs all these functions, but in order to be successful they have to work well together. Everyone needs to understand the concerns of the other departments – their viewpoint, their value, and the pressures that they are under.

This is one of the great benefits of the Income/Outcome simulation: in each round, everyone helps make decisions in each department, and they realize that not only does every decision impact the bottom line, it also impacts the ability to make good decisions in the other departments. E.g., if Finance decides not to borrow money, then Operations can’t expand capacity, and then Sales can’t go after the largest (and potentially most profitable) orders in the market.

It’s very common in an Income/Outcome workshop with cross-functional teams of participants (each bringing their work mindset to the workshop) for a Finance manager to say “We have to keep prices up, or we’ll never make any money”, while a Sales manager argues “We have to put prices down, or we’ll never make any Sales”. At least in the beginning. Frequently by the end of the day, the Sales manager is now arguing for raising prices, while the Finance manager is arguing for lowering them. They have experienced the driving logic of the other function, and are busy internalizing it. They go back to their real-world positions with increased respect for the other Departments, and more willingness to provide rapid and accurate information and other support when they are asked for it.

But about that joke: be careful telling it in the presence of only one Department – they will feel laughed at and picked on. But if you have a mixed group, and they trust you enough to let you laugh at all of them, then it makes a worthwhile point.