Frustration has been sizzling above the surface for so long that in order to avoid a blowup, leaders thought it best to have a sit-down, hash-it-out meeting and get the problems resolved once and for all. Now, both sides get to have their say and they’re ready for war.
Production team members are fed up and with good reason. The design team handed off its designs for product upgrades on time, but the costs and difficulty in producing the new products are unreasonable. The costs for material alone far exceed what has been budgeted. And by the time the required extra workers are hired and trained to handle the complicated assembly process, production managers can kiss their bonuses goodbye. As expected, production sent everything back with a note to redo the designs to meet production department specifications.
Design team members are none too happy to see their work rejected. They aren’t responsible for the problems of the production team, which insists on doing everything the same as before. A little ingenuity and the production team could probably figure out how to do get the job done. But they expect everything to be designed to fit their current systems. In any case, the design work was accomplished on time and within design budget specifications. At this point, nobody can say design staff didn’t do their jobs. Touché.
It’s an all too familiar problem. It shows up in every industry between departments of all kinds. So doctors and nurses struggle to work together, operations and corporate staff groups clash, parts sales and inventory control are at odds, and engineers and power distribution groups have ongoing jokes about each other.
Even though each group is concerned about what it needs and expects from the other, it’s this very self-centeredness that causes the groups to be dissatisfied with what they get. By demanding, cajoling, manipulating and threatening, each struggles to protect its own interests. Because they are focused on their own interests, neither is concerned with serving the other to ensure that at least one of them gets what they need.
We see these struggles result in inter-departmental mix-ups, verbal tugs-of-war, miscommunications, lack of cooperation, abdication of accountability, and other dysfunctions. Not only do staff members feel frustrated and unproductive, turf wars often develop like the one illustrated by the production and design teams mentioned earlier. Two departments that must cooperate for the business to succeed suddenly become entrenched as if they are direct competitors in a cutthroat industry. Since, in this environment, it’s difficult for employees to assume any responsibility for major business outcomes, personal commitment reverts to task level assignments so that the personal satisfaction achieved at work becomes quite minimal.
So what’s the solution? Well, I once heard a speaker say there’s only one customer and that’s the one that buys the product or service. So, I suppose it would be blasphemy to say we should treat those in other departments as internal customers. But the reality is that internal service to one another is what drives collaboration and mutual cooperation. It is also necessary for everything else in the organization to function well, including the ability to serve external customers.
We can apply this to our production and design departments where team members who shift their focus from personal wants and selfish demands to an almost altruistic concern for each other will find it easy to engage in meaningful service. Instead of a face-off to confront staff members, employees will do an about-face, replacing accusations and blame with honest and sincere inquiries about how each can serve the other in ways that support the business. Serving each other and collaborating on the product upgrades, for example, would make the lives of staff easier in both groups helping them all to achieve their objectives instead of wrestling to determine who will win out at the other’s expense. And, not surprisingly, it’s the service to each other inside the organization that ultimately provides what’s necessary to deliver excellent quality, response time, service, and value to the external customer, providing personal satisfaction in overall results achieved for the business.
Trying it on for fit: Begin with two departments that need to work more as an integrated, interdependent team. Have them do the following as departments or work groups. Ask each department to prepare a list of actions and/or results needed from the other department in order to better serve the external customer directly or indirectly (this can include administration and support groups). Ask each department staff to also develop a list of what they think the other department needs from them to serve the customer.
Bring the departments together and have staff from one department ask those in the other how they can better serve them to create service excellence. Have them listen and take notes. Reverse roles and let those in the second department ask the same question.
Have the departments meet separately and develop commitments for serving the other. Bring the groups together again and have them exchange commitments, negotiate agreements, and agree on follow up arrangements.
Send an email and let me know what you learn from your experiences. I would love to hear from you!