About 2,000 years ago, a Jewish tentmaker named Paul had the task of teaching teamwork to a bunch of zealous members of a new, obscure cult called “Christianity.” His advice – to the extent it was followed – probably deserves some credit for Christianity’s success in sweeping through the Roman world.
In this passage from a letter to the church at Corinth, Paul is responding to the problem of spiritual gifts. If his letter is to be believed, the Corinthians had the unique problem of being gifted with “miraculous powers,” “prophecy,” “tongues,” and things of that nature.
Whatever your thoughts on Paul and Christianity, I find it interesting that his advice is so relevant for companies and organizations 2,000 years later. Because even though our companies’ departments don’t have different spiritual powers, they do have different strengths that can sometimes come into conflict.
Let’s have a look at Paul’s advice, starting in 1 Corinthians 12:12:
Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body.
For Paul’s differently-gifted Corinthian friends, this is a call to appreciate the division of labor.
For those of us building or working in companies, this is a call to remember that our roles don’t set us above or beyond the need to fit within a division of labor ourselves. We, too, have a body. In fact, “corporation” is a word derived from the Latin “corpus,” for body, so the comparison hits close.
If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body.
The health and success of your departments are secondary to the health and success of your company. As your company grows and the “members” of the corporate body start talking more to the people who make up the same member, it’s easy for each department to think of its own success first. If you are hiring or managing, it becomes your responsibility to set up incentives and goals that put the whole company’s health first. Reward interdependence.
Maybe that interdependence means that sales helps out with customer support for a while, even if it doesn’t directly impact sales goals. Maybe it means that the marketing team helps out with cold-calling leads for the sales team.
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”
Your teams should never forget that they need each other. It’s your responsibility if you lead (or if you follow) to help promote an understanding of the important niche and task each department contributes. Better yet, show how each department contributes to revenue (one of the most tangible metrics you can get).
On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another.
A good takeaway here is to not judge all departments equally. Success for a customer success team may look different from success for a legal and compliance team. Your engineering team’s value may not be measurable in the same terms that your sales team is. Do your best to build systems of goal tracking that respect the unique function of each team, without creating undue rivalry.
If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.
Create incentives such that a problem for one department is a problem for all. This is already the case, but your incentives should highlight this. That, too, will make it easy for other departments to be happy to see one department improve.