How Leaders Can Deal with Cross-Department Rivalries

By Harvard Business Review
December 20, 2018

To better integrate rivaling teams, and therefore reduce friction and strengthen collaboration, leaders can address these important questions to create more cohesiveness.

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. If you see fraying cross-functional relationships, dig deep to understand what’s really causing those fractions.

Leaders should 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.

They are:

What value do we create together? The seams that connect major functions are where an organization’s greatest competitive distinctions lie. Discrete technical capabilities reside within functions, but when blended with the capabilities of adjacent functions, they combine into capabilities that drive performance. By identifying which objectives in the organization’s strategy that the functions mutually contribute to, you can reduce the perception of conflicting goals.

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What capabilities do we need to deliver the value? Having anchored their relationship in creating value for the organization’s together, groups can now focus on how best to achieve it. Functions should identify the four to five critical shared capabilities they must have.

RELATED: Communicating with Your Care Team − Do You Do It Well?

How will we resolve conflicts and make decisions while maintaining trust? Conflicts will inevitably come up when trying to better coordinate efforts. Answering this question together presents an opportunity to “rehearse” those conflicts in advance. Functions should identify the critical decisions they’ll need to make in pursuit of their co-created value and determine who gets to make the final call on those decisions.

What do we need from each other to succeed? This question is about supporting one another’s work going forward. Groups must create detailed service-level agreements to one another, and negotiate things like timeliness of information sharing, quality standards, how far in advance notification is needed for changes and how day-to-day work will be coordinated. 

Copyright 2018 Harvard Business School Publishing Corp. Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate.

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