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If you and your department need to work closely with another department, interdepartmental conflict can present very real challenges. All too frequently, simple miscommunications can impede relationships – and that’s to say nothing of more severe conflict, such as rivalries, blaming, and competition.
Conflict, whether inadvertent or long-standing and entrenched, can impede the achievement of your team’s goals, and thus hurt both you and your career.
How do you solve conflict and get things done from teams you don’t manage? Here are some positive methods.
Work to Establish Good Relationships with the Other Managers
Your first step should be to prevent conflict before it arises! To that end, move to establish good relationships with other departmental managers.
Your goal is to understand their motivations, challenges, and goals. All too often, conflict between departments arises from misunderstandings about these elements.
At times, of course, you may not be able to prevent already-existing conflict. If that’s the situation, move to defuse any conflict with the other managers as much as you can. You will find their teams less likely to interfere with you and your team if the functioning at the top is perceived as smooth – or at least neutral.
Again, knowing the motivations, challenges, and goals are key to defusing conflict. You’ll need to make individual decisions on how to defuse and move forward based on your information. Does the manager of Team A blame you and your team for not being able to perform their own functions smoothly, for instance? It may be time for a sit down meeting in which you candidly discuss challenges and your attempts to rectify them. Or, do they feel they don’t get enough credit? If you can, give credit where credit is due.
If you can’t defuse and the conflict is impeding the achievement of your team goals, discuss the situation with your own manager. Don’t discuss personalities, but specific issues. Aim for a setting of realistic expectations, help, and advice.
Develop Positive Relationships Between the Teams
Then, establish positive relationships between the teams. Discuss this with the other team’s managers (and use it as a method to establish good relationships or defuse existing tension with them as well).
You could, for example, develop methods of business-focused collaboration, such as joint training sessions or cross-team shadowing, where selected team members in your group follow and learn from selected team members of theirs. These methods can be particularly helpful if the conflict stems from inaccurate perceptions about how your team works, what its goals are, or (imaginary) impediments your team creates.
If the issues seem more personality-based, strategize a method of establishing more positive personal relationships and defusing negative ones. Would joint team-building activities work? These can range from attending sports functions to sponsored treasure hunts that require the teams to work together to find objects. Informal happy hours, on the other hand, can work to simply defuse the tensions of teams that don’t know each other and don’t see each other often.
Set Expectations With Your Group
It’s also very important to set positive expectations for interdepartmental cooperation with your own reports. Build a positive, solution-oriented mindset.
Don’t allow negative gossip about the other teams and work to eradicate it if it’s become entrenched. If there is an ongoing situation, discuss it openly. Ask for specific solutions to specific instances.
At the same time, make it clear that the solutions aren’t only on your employees’ shoulders. Resolving entrenched conflict may require support from both above and below. Be clear that you want to build a culture of mutual respect and a solution-oriented culture, and encourage your reports to take steps toward that.
Discuss the Matter Proactively With Other Managers
Don’t suffer high levels of conflict alone. First, approach other managers about the issue. Access their experiences in similar situations. Have they experienced conflict with other departments, and if so, what solutions did they find helpful?
If you feel comfortable doing so, ask them for specific help with the department generating conflict or specific people within the other department.
Second, approach your own management team about the issue. Again, don’t focus on personalities, but specific instances in which conflict is impeding the achievement of your team’s goals. Your managers may be genuinely unaware of the conflict or its effects.
Your manager needs to know of the issues you’re encountering so it can be factored into the expectations for your role. In addition, you have a right to receive advice and help on the issue.
Come with solutions in mind. If you think cross-team training or team-building activities would work, for example, suggest them with an eye to garnering support. At a minimum, you want to be viewed as a positive and solutions-minded force, and not a contributor to the conflict.
Conflict can exert a very negative force on you and your team. Plus, it can be tough to perform well if part of your goals rely on teams that you don’t manage. The solution is to try to establish good relationships with the other manager, develop positive relationships between the teams, set expectations within your group, and discuss the issues with other managers.
Talk to an Ivy Exec mentor about inter-team relationship building.