When different functions within our own organizations aren’t seeing “eye to eye”, we tend to shy away from bringing them together. We don’t intend to prolong the conflict — but, in reality, that is what occurs. Our instincts are often to act as an intermediary and settle the issue calmly and quickly. But, that is likely not in the best interest of the organization.
Digging into the concerns is often the best route, especially if the conflict directly affects your clients or customers. Often it’s time for things to change — yet we’ve ignored the signs or haven’t had the opportunity to address the issues.
It’s best to lay the cards on the table and expose the root of the problems, even when this is an extreme challenge, as quickly as possible. Hopefully, exploring the developing issues wards off delivery problems related to products and services.
When I’m called in to sort out these types of situations (often at an off-site), my first instinct is to get everyone in the same room and lay the cards on the table. I often couple this with a process exercise that models work flow, that illustrates how their work crosses paths with other functions to deliver great products and services. Of course, I have the benefit of a lowered emotional investment. That’s often what is needed the vet the issues and move forward.
Here is an exercise to try on your own. (I suppose it is a modified “War Game” exercise.)
- Start with your functional groups intact. Initially, place contributors in groups sorted by their source function (No more than 6-8 per group. Utilize round tables). Place index cards on the table. Each group will identify key cross-functional issues that are obstacles to delivering the best products or services to customers. (Include two colors of index cards, one for urgent and non-urgent issues. Have each team record 5 issues. One index card for each. Teams can identify 2 issues as urgent.)
- Record the issues. Instruct the functional teams to discuss and record the toughest issues they face in relation to interfacing or coordinating, with the other functions. Instruct them to keep customer or product and service delivery in mind. Keep the description as brief as possible and include one example that occurs in practice.
- Collect the recorded issues. After issue identification, offer a coffee break. Have leadership sort the issues by content area for distribution. Select a set of cards, with key topic areas represented, for consideration by the re-convened teams.
- Mix-up the teams by functional area. Re-convene teams as multi-functional groups for the solution phase. Allow the “solution” teams to choose, then attack 2-3 of the problems, time allowing. They should develop solutions for each that will be presented to the larger group. Each team will work on the issues selected. (30-45 minutes or so.) Then break once again, there will be serendipitous conversation.
- Present proposed solutions. Re-convene. The teams should select two presenters. One presenter should be a member of a functional team that hasn’t sourced the issue being addressed.
I’ve never seen a group that didn’t learn something critical from the challenge. There will be more than a couple of heated exchanges, but it is all in the name of progress. Data can be added to the equation after issues are identified. If there is time, the group can identify metrics that can track progress, as time goes on.