Top 7 Strategies for Dealing with Cross-Departmental Issues
By Kevin Kearns
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"You're not the boss of me!" - It feels good to say those words. Translated, this means - you can say whatever you want, because I am not going to listen anyway, so there! Such a powerfully defiant thing to say. Have you ever said it? I can tell you from first hand experience, it feels good! I can also tell you from first hand experience that hearing those words does not feel good. The attitude that accompanies those words has damaged many organizational relationships. If there always seems to be an "edgy" feel between your departments or teams, these seven tips are for you.
- Plan Ahead: Have an answer and look it up. Thank goodness for spell check! When I was younger and would ask my dad how to spell a word, he would always point me to the dictionary and say "look it up." The need to spell words correctly had been established long before I asked, so there was a resource created to meet that need. (Spell check is a cooler version of the same idea.) When there are different teams and departments, you are going to have conflict. Have the department heads come together to create procedures for dealing with cross-departmental issues. These procedures are your spell check.
- Swap Shoes: Walk a mile in the other person's Ug Boots. The standard, in resolving issues, is see it from the other person's side. You can do this intellectually with discussion. You can do it via role play. Or, in some rare cases, you can actually let them feel a little bit of the pain associated with the other side of the issue. If the issue involves two entire teams, have a meeting where the team leaders switch sides and argue for the opposition. The teams will be more open to listening if their leader is saying the words.
- But Mom!: Have a chain of command that jumps from team to team. I hated when my parents would say "your sister is in charge" when they would go out. Hearing those words made it a much bigger deal to get into an altercation with her. Don't get me wrong, it would still happen, but I would have to believe it was really worth it - since the odds were high that I would get in trouble. The same can happen in the workplace. Set up the chain of command that crosses over team boundaries. Similar to the armed services, rank is rank. When a team leader is not present, another team leader has the authority to intervene if needed. Using this expanded chain of command will require that team leaders have enough trust to support their fellow team leaders wit! h their team's well being.
- Cage Match: Let's get ready to Arguuuuue! Take the leaders of each team and place them in a room with the mission of having an agreement before leaving the room. Let them bicker, whine, cry, pout, foam at the mouth - just no violence or threats of violence. They will eventually tire of beating their heads against the walls (figuratively speaking) and come to an agreement. What seemed important 15 minutes into the debate will seem much less important after 3 hours of discussing it.
- Step In: Mediate an issue that cannot be worked out at the team level. Done correctly, mediation can be amazing. Not being interrupted as they share their side is sometimes all that is needed for resolution. In this type of mediation, it is important the mediator not be involved as a judge and jury. In order to be most effective, the mediator serves as a facilitator, not a hangman looking for the person at fault. Simply lay out the ground rules of professional conduct, and help keep the two sides on the path to resolution.
- Expect Respect: Establish the expectation that professional behavior will be shown at all times. Disagreeing with someone is much easier if they are not pushing your buttons or yelling at you. Respecting authority is a choice. Be it another team's leader or a police officer - giving respect is a choice. If the consequences for not giving respect are severe enough, you can increase the odds of seeing respect shown. If an employee would receive a $150 ticket, get points on their licence, and higher insurance rates, you might see a reduction in disrespectful behavior.
- Blowfish: What would Hootie do? Hootie would want to hold their hand! Sometimes that is what it takes to help people face change or come out of their comfort zones. If your staff has always been allowed to say "you're not the boss of me" or completely ignore everyone but their supervisor, it may take a while to adapt to this new way. Try holding their hands a bit. And maybe, just maybe, "with a little peace and some harmony, we'll take the world together, we'll take 'em by the hand" (Hootie & The Blowfish.)
Kevin Kearns is President of Kearns Advantage, a leadership coaching company. Kearns Advantage has a proven track record of developing strong leaders. Kevin holds a Master of Science degree in Organization Development and is a member of the Coachville Graduate School of Coaching. Subscribe to Kevins free leadership newsletter at http://www.kearnsadvantage.com.
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Article Submitted On: March 28, 2005