Imagine this scenario: You have assembled a crack team that is highly motivated, efficient, and effective. As the leader of this team, you feel in control and confident that any task this team is assigned will be completed on time, on budget, and ready to be passed along to the next link in the departmental chain.
But the only problem is, you have absolutely no authority or control of that other department, and since your hand off process is ill defined, the communications you have had with the other department head has been poor, and the cross-department acrimony level is high, all that great work you did under your own roof is about to be squandered.
You were a pretty darn good leader and checked all your boxes, but you were a poor diplomat, and thus, the company as a whole did not succeed.
Indeed, one of the hardest tasks for any leader is to forge and maintain effective relationships with their peers leading other functional departments, because it requires so much emphasis on the “soft” skills of diplomacy.
There is always going to be a certain amount of tension between peers, simply because most leaders are competitive, and because of the “foreignness” of the other functional areas, and the resulting differences in work cultures and attitudes.
Plus, since most leaders are used to being in positions of authority for most of the day, it’s a bit unnatural and uncomfortable to affect progress and change without that authority, with only your own guile and power of persuasion to see you through.
So how can we maximize peer-to-peer and department-to-department relations, and thus maximize our company’s chances for success?
There are 5 keys:
- Process hand-offs have to be well defined, and documented – Here’s a great analogy that a friend recently passed along to me: Think like a relay team at a track meet. Who’s going to win the race – The team that puts the baton on the ground, so the next runner has to stop and pick it up, or the team that can pass the baton is off at top-speed? Work tirelessly with your peers to make the hand-offs seamless – it will pay off.
- Align your ultimate goals and objectives. Repeat. Then Repeat again. – Your common boss will preach this, but it’s up to you and your peers to make it work. It’s surprising how objectives can change within departments without constant reinforcement. For example, you’d think something as simple as “provide superior customer service” would be enough of a overarching goal to keep inter-departmental harmony, but unless it’s preached constantly between peers, things can go astray in a hurry.
- Use Proper Pronouns (i.e. toss “They” out of your vocabulary) – Nothing promotes disharmony more than the use of that four letter word, “They“. It has to be about the “We”. That’s diplomacy. AND, leaders must insure that teammates within their own departments realize that they are all in the same boat with their cross-departmental brethren, and should also toss “they” out the window. That one act alone will make a HUGE difference.
- Define your territories and “demilitarized zones” – All too often, because of poorly defined roles and responsibilities within an organization, a lot of “toe-stepping” occurs between different departments, because the lines of “who does what” are so blurry. Peers need to draw solid lines for each other so they clearly know where their territories begin and end, and, what’s more, need to create situations where peaceful crossovers can occur (what I call “demilitarized zones”) – cross functional task forces are a good example.
- Take Tom Peters advice and “Buddy Up” – Peters, one of my leadership mentors, has characterized “cross-functional effectiveness” (he calls it XFX) “the #1 opportunity for strategic differentiation“. His advice? A great list of “social accelerators” led by simply “making friends in other functions“. Check out the whole list, but heed the gist: “KNOW THY PEER“.