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Culture-Con Preview: Improving Internal Communication By Uniting Specialists & Generalists

Most people would agree that good communication is a critical factor to the health of any company. It’s the lifeblood that helps us to capture ideas, spread knowledge and realize common goals. However, promoting this “healthy flow” of communication can be difficult. This rings especially true with those who operate in the technology industry, as they know firsthand how it can sometimes feel like the business and technology departments literally speak two different languages.

Great salespeople cannot make up for a technology that lacks in meeting customers’ needs and an amazing and revolutionary product team cannot succeed if the business side has no clue about the value their products provide. It’s information exchange that keeps a company strong and it requires both the business and technology departments to work together to maintain an open line of communication.

But this isn’t always so easy.

It’s amazing how the exact same set of words can be interpreted two very different ways by the business and technology departments. And although these two sides may very well want similar things, they tend to convey these wants quite differently. They often value things differently, approach problems differently and communicate within themselves differently. It makes sense when you look at it — they are simply doing what works best internally for their department.

Therefore, high-tech companies that reduce the barriers of communication between their business and technology departments open up opportunities for more accelerated, more dynamic product development and a better understanding of the company’s value proposition.

So how are interdepartmental communications, especially those between technical and business units, being strengthened? Companies are finding a healthy balance between two types of people – specialists and generalists.

Specialists vs. Generalists

Albert Einstein, one of history's best specialists, and Ben Franklin, one of history's best generalistsIt’s undeniable that businesses thrive off of specialists. They are the foundation of most traditional companies, the go to’s for your major business functions. They are your hardcore engineers, accountants, salespeople, marketers, etc. Their depth of knowledge about their particular expertise is unmatched.

However, they tend to have a very narrow scope of responsibilities, making it harder for them to grasp the “bigger picture” of how their work fits into place alongside others. Instead, they tend to have a select list of tasks at which they excel. Therefore, specialists provide a great sense of stability to a company, embodying its core framework and carrying out its crucial assignments.

However, high tech companies have begun to realize a need to balance out the talents of their specialists with people who can take the important departmental information, synthesize it and relay it to the other parts of the company. They are our cross-trained, business-to-tech intermediaries. They are the perfect compliment to the specialists – the generalists.

A good generalist has his/her finger on the pulse of two or more departments/disciplines and an overall wide breadth of knowledge. They can see the intricate connections between various business units and can identify how certain issues might affect each unit individually, as well as the company as a whole. While these employees may not be the masters of any one specific thing, they are the active messengers of the company, bringing all important information to the surface.

So by being more of a jack-of-all-trades, they serve well as the interpreters between tech and business, helping to break down the “lost in translation” phenomenon that so many high-tech companies struggle with. Instead of specialists having to try and communicate with other specialists (which doesn’t always work out well), these generalists can step in and act as a useful liaison between the two.

The Importance Of The Intermediary

Photo Credit: Dave Gray

Most traditional businesses have gone without these intermediary “generalists” for some time now. Instead, managers were typically the ones that united a company’s departments, each of them in charge of providing and receiving departmental information. It seemed to be an ancillary benefit to have employees that were cross-trained between disciplines.

Business is more fast paced and dynamic now. Discussions need to take place quicker and so we’ve begun to realize that information exchange cannot only take place at the upper management level. It needs to occur at the employee level as well. So now with the steady increase in high-tech/web-based companies over the past decade, generalists are now playing an increasingly important role in intracompany communication and filling a void that didn’t seem to exist before.

Of course, as with all spectrums, there is a gray scale of various hybrid cases in between. Very few people are pure generalists or specialists. You might be a very technical person who has taken a few business classes or a businessperson who might know how to code in a couple languages. However, the important thing to note is where our core strengths lie. Once we do that, we can better surround ourselves with others that compliment our needs.


With the New Year now upon us, I strongly advise that you take the time to step back and examine your interdepartmental communication. Does your department communicate well with other departments? Receive and provide important information in a timely and effective manner? If not, do you have people within your department that could help bridge that communication gap? Or do you need to hire someone that could? You may feel like your department is doing everything right, but do you integrate well with other departments? Where do your strengths lie?

You may have an entire department of very intelligent specialists, but if they aren’t able to speak clearly about the value your department is providing, your company may be experiencing a breakdown in communication. Vice versa, you may have an entire department of very well spoken generalists, but if they aren’t actually producing anything valuable, then your department isn’t worth very much, is it? Instead, it’s a sensible combination of the two that produces results.

High-tech business (or any business for that matter) should therefore strive to maintain a healthy balance of specialists and generalists. Remember, neither specialists nor generalists are more valuable than the other. Instead, if they work together cooperatively, the line of communication within your company can be increased drastically.

Be at the first Culture-Con on Tuesday, January 31 — an event that not only asks the question about what makes a great corporate culture, but facilitates discussion on how to implement these best practices into your own unique work environment. It will feature a keynote address from Donovan Roberson, Director of Service Innovations at OOBE and formerly Culture Evangelist at Zappos, in addition to other speakers, breakout sessions and more. Get more information and reserve your spot now.

(Thanks to Dave Gray for the image above)

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Whois: Dan McAuliffe

Dan McAuliffe is a Manager, UX and Digital Conversion at Oracle Dyn Global Business Unit, a pioneer in managed DNS and a leader in cloud-based infrastructure that connects users with digital content and experiences across a global internet.

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