How to Build Workplace Relationships with Other Departments

Written By: Alison Green
June 30, 2015
4 min read

Ever seen those people who seem to know and work well with everyone in your company, and as a result get things done faster and better? You can become one of those people too, if you put some effort into building relationships with other teams.

Doing that isn’t just about building personal relationships – although that certainly helps – but about paying attention to the way you work with other departments and the signals you send when you need their assistance. Specifically…

1. Pay attention to how they prefer to communicate. You don’t have to totally subsume your own communication style to another department’s just to build good relationships, but it’s worth paying attention to how they seem to prefer to communicate and factoring that into your own approach. If, for instance, your IT department has a ticketing system for new issues, they’re not going to be fond of the person who always walks over to report a problem. More subtly, if you notice that you get faster answers from the marketing team when you pick up the phone and call them, you might find it useful to adapt to their style when you need something from them, even if you’re a dedicated emailer.

2. Be thoughtful about the messages you’re sending around how you prioritize their work. You may not have a lot of control over how you need to prioritize another department’s work; after all, if the CEO needs a project done ASAP, that’s probably going to trump everything else. And of course, business needs should determine where projects fall in your queue. But it’s incredibly helpful to explain to people how you’re prioritizing their work and why, even if it means saying, “Realistically, I may not be able to tackle this until September because I have two product releases I need to finalize and a high-priority project for the sales director.”

3. Understand that they need to prioritize things too. Sometimes people get frustrated and antsy when another department isn’t moving their work along quickly enough – and sometimes that’s reasonable, but often there are perfectly sound reasons for the schedule they’re on, such as projects that have a higher level of business-urgency than yours do. Forgetting about that and pushing to jump the line is a good way to make another team really, really annoyed with you.

4. Explain the “why.” Especially when you’re making a last-minute request or asking for a significant amount of another department’s time, explaining the larger context – the “why” – will usually make people happier about helping out. If you just send over a major job and say, “Sorry, but we need this by Monday” with no further context, you’re likely to generate grumblings and resentment (and make people less inclined to bend over backward to help). But if you say, “I know this is a rush, but we just learned about this today and if we’re able to get it finalized by Monday, we’ll be able to have it in people’s hands before the summer sale ends,” it’s going to go over a lot better.

5. Keep them in the loop. If you’ve ever had another team neglect to tell you that they were pushing back the timeline for your project because something more important bumped it, or that their director nixed an element that was important to you, you know how frustrating it is not to be kept up-to-date about things that impact your work. Make sure that you’re not doing that to anyone else, by being vigilant about keeping people posted about the status of their projects and any changes that they’re likely to care about.

6. Don’t coast on friendships. Work relationships do matter – they matter a lot – but don’t fall into thinking that you can coast on a friendship when it comes to timely, high-quality work. Consistently doing great work and getting results is one of the best ways to build relationships with other teams, and without that, social bonds alone will usually end up failing to salvage things.

Written By: Alison Green
Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the co-author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development.