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In sports, there are rarely fights in the winning locker room. But when a team loses, the finger-pointing sometimes begins — especially if the team management has broken down. The same is true in business.
People from different departments may be celebrating and high-fiving when things are going well. But when a quarterly target is missed, defenses go up — and different camps within the company often turn against each other.
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This problem within organizational culture can be exacerbated in times of high stress or crisis. There were already concerns about a looming recession before the COVID-19 outbreak put those fears into overdrive. Businesses know they could face a tough time in the months ahead. It’s an extremely stressful time for people at all levels of an organization. In addition to its impact on our well-being and mental health, stress can also damage business relationships. And with millions of people suddenly working remotely, there’s currently the added challenge of needing to repair damage done to business continuity and relationships virtually.
It’s crucial that businesses work to achieve unity. The financial incentives of a unified, collaborative workforce are clear. Deloitte found that greater collaboration creates value and saves time inside organizations. This also leads to higher-quality work output.
But even companies keenly aware of these benefits can fall into the finger-pointing trap. I’ve seen it happen. My background is in both sales and marketing — two departments that notoriously have high levels of conflict. Similar strife can happen anywhere in an organization.
It’s up to leaders and managers to ensure that it doesn’t. That means running the business so that different departments are not just aligned, but integrated. This doesn’t happen simply through social activities and team bonding initiatives. Instead, it takes active efforts, year-round, to create a “one team” mentality.
Here are three key steps that can go a long way toward building collaborative relationships and ending the blame game in your organization.
Build Cooperation Into Compensation Structure
Businesses have long struggled with the question of how much to reward individuals, teams, and the entire company for successes. As a research paper published by Marquette University explains, “Without rewarding individual performance, people may shirk their responsibilities; but without rewarding collaboration, people may not be motivated to work together.” Thus, businesses incentivize cooperation through compensation. An example from the research was Cisco, which tied bonuses directly to customer satisfaction data.
Delta has worked to do something similar by providing a profit-sharing incentive, giving everyone in the company something to look forward to when results are achieved.
At Sales Hacker (which I founded) and now at Outreach (where I’m vice president of marketing), the entire staff receives bonuses based on revenue generated. After all, when the sales teams hit their numbers, it’s with the help of the marketing team that provides materials, product teams that churn out new features, success and support teams that keep customers happy, and all of the other valuable work from employees across the organization.
Prioritize Cross-Functional Projects
Teams that pull people together from across different units can bring different expertise and perspectives to help design new innovations inside a company. In the process, the members of these teams build relationships with each other. The more employees from different departments are put into such cross-functional teams, the greater their units integrate throughout the business.
There’s also another benefit to cross-functional projects: Creating these kinds of diverse teams can help expose fault lines. When this tension is exposed, it’s up to the manager of the team to focus on building bridges and enhancing understanding.
Set the Example at the Top
Managers should have regular, positive interactions with their counterparts across the company. Then they should share the results of those interactions. During conference calls and team meetings, they should discuss what they learned from other teams and emphasize the value.
It’s also important for managers to build relationships with members of other teams who are not at the managerial level. Offer open invitations for members of another team to grab coffee or have lunch (including virtually during the pandemic). Use these times to ask them detailed questions about their work, their challenges, and how your team can help. Then discuss the positive, helpful ideas with their manager and act based on what they said.
I’ve implemented these strategies in my work, and it pays off. I learn things from individuals across different teams that give me new ideas to bring back to my reports. I also have a close relationship with my counterpart in marketing and work to foster relationships across the company.
Physical arrangements can also help. In office spaces, put teams near each other in order to foster communication and relationships. When working remotely, managers should encourage employees to use videoconferencing to have conversations with members of other teams — conversations that go well beyond the brief messages that fill email or Slack.
The more this becomes standard practice across an organization, the more the entire company stands to gain.