How to Permanently Resolve Cross-Department Rivalries
Address these four critical questions to create a more coherent workplace
It can be challenging to synchronize complex tasks across multiple functions. Rather than cooperating, too many functions end up competing for power, influence, and limited resources. And such rivalry is more than a nuisance: It’s costly. One study reports that 85 percent of workers experience some regular form of conflict, with U.S. workers averaging 2.8 hours per week. That equates to $359 billion paid hours mired in conflict. It’s easy to blame these conflicts on personalities — think toxic bosses or big egos — but in my experience as an organizational consultant, the root cause is more often systemic. For example, this study examining the rivalry between sales and marketing showed that conflicts between managers from these historically warring functions were not driven by interpersonal issues. They were tied to the frequency of how they exchanged information, and the degree to which there were effective processes connecting their work.
When cross-departmental rivalries get heated and conflicts arise, I’ve frequently seen companies turn to team-building events or motivational speakers who talk about trust. But often these solutions aren’t able to address the challenges these groups face because the organizational structure is encouraging these departments to dislike and distrust one another. For example, I worked with a global consumer products company in which the commercial organization — the set of departments responsible for developing new products and bringing them to market — was deeply fragmented. There were misunderstandings across the group about what one another did and sharp differences in how each subgroup defined a successfully commercialized product. R&D viewed operations as “the people who only know how to say no to opportunities,” while operations viewed R&D as “the time- and money-wasters.”
To better integrate and align rivaling functions, and, therefore, reduce friction and strengthen collaboration, leaders can address four critical questions that enable cross-functional teams to work together more coherently. These can happen over an extended working session, or a series of conversations.
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