What's your advice on improving a historically tense relationship between functions?
Improving a historically tense relationship between functions requires a deliberate effort and a willingness to work collaboratively towards a common goal.
The first item that I like to spend time on is understanding the root causes of the tense relationship (which could have stemmed from miscommunication, conflict of goals/objectives, lack of trust etc).
Once there is clarity on the root causes, here are some things I think about in rebuilding the relationship:
- Have open and honest communication between the parties involved, and make sure that everyone feels heard and understood.
- Tensions can arise because each function may have different goals and priorities. Finding a common ground and fostering a shared sense of purpose.
- Tensions can also arise when there is ambiguity around roles and responsibilities. Establishing clear expectations for each function, and making sure that everyone understands their role in the overall process.
- When functions compete with each other, tensions can quickly escalate. Instead, I focus on collaboration and finding ways to work together.
- Celebrating wins (small or big) of each other teams/functions to build a positive culture.
Please feel free to reach out to me directly via LinkedIn message if you would like to discuss this further.
It's important to nip tension across functions quickly and don't let it fester, here are some of my strategies:
First, take time to understand the root of the tension. For example, what kind of challenges are they facing, are their goals in conflict with others, are their contributions not valued?
Create a shared vision or shared objectives across functions. Are there even just one or two goals that you can partner together to achieve versus trying to bring dependent teams or stakeholders along to achieve your teams’ functional goals?
Define roles and accountability. We use the DACI framework to align on who the driver, approver, contributor and informed folks are. This helps us maintain alignment and keep decision making efficient.
Commit to building trust and better relationships between the functions from the top down. As a leader, it’s my responsibility to make sure I am aligned with leaders of other teams regarding priorities and the most important challenges to overcome. Setting this tone of cross-functional partnership is important.
I typically defuse tense relationships with clear communication and a little humor.
For background: I've inherited historically tense relationships and, in listening to the complaints or assumptions made by the function, identified the issues that require increased communication. These issues are almost always related to actions by my team that increase work for their teams or reduce visibility into areas where their team has oversight.
Once those sticking points are identified, I make it a point to improve my team's process to minimize those issues. Whether that's:
Communicating changes/additions to fields that may impact integrations prior to the work being completed;
Coordinating projects to ensure that all teams are able to manage the change together;
Ensuring that the right stakeholders are at the table during project planning.
Notably, in repairing relationships with some functions, you may increase tension with other functions because suddenly those "simple changes" that were handled quickly require more coordination.
I also ensure that my team -- and functional areas working with us -- know and understand that a process is not improved if it solves 1 problem, but creates 10 more somewhere else.
From my experience, a historically tense relationship comes from a conflict in the sense that both functions have two irreconcilable points of view or courses of actions as necessary to fulfill their objectives. Each one sees the other's point of view as preventing them from achieving their objectives.
I would first advise listing the undesirable effects of such a tense relationship and then drawing a logic tree to find the root cause of this tension and identify the conflict. Several types of trees can be used, but one that I have seen as particularly efficient is the Current Reality Tree (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Current_reality_tree_(theory_of_constraints).
From that tree, one can deduct an "evaporating cloud" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evaporating_Cloud) to illustrate the conflict.
With this in hand, I would meet with all the parties and analyze the two graphs, and usually, this allows for finding which hypothesis was wrong and generated the conflict.
Correcting the situation and improving the relationship between the two functions is then easy.
This course of action may be difficult if you are perceived as not being an impartial party.
if you have never used such tools, it is also advisable to get help from someone who has already created some.