If you’ve ever felt the frustration of being stymied by another department’s lack of action on requests from your team, or ever known the feeling of not being able to move forward until your counterpart in another department does her piece of a project, you know why it’s important to have good relationships across teams.
It’s easy to think that other departments should do their job and act on your team’s requests simply because, well, it’s their job to do that… but in reality, the type of relationship you have with managers in other departments can have a real impact on how fast your requests are attended to or whether they’re attended to at all. And there doesn’t have to be any malfeasance in play for that to happen; when a department has to prioritize among a large number of incoming requests, some of them are going to be pushed back, and some of them might be yours. But it’s also human nature that people tend to be more willing to go out of their way to help people who have taken the time to connect with them.
That’s one reason why it can be disastrous if, say, the marketing director hates the sales director; things just aren’t going to be done as efficiently as they would if you had smooth relations between the two.
So, what can managers and organizations do to cultivate the type of cross-departmental relationships that will help teams be more effective? Here are 5 key ways to go about it.
1. From the top of the organization, leaders should explicitly articulate strong manager-to-manager relationships as something the organization values, reinforcing it from the top on down. That also means calling it out when tension or other problems are getting in the way, and generally having a norm around being responsive, helpful, and collaborative with other teams.
2. As an individual manager, recognize that helpfulness goes both ways. To the extent that you can, prioritizing another team’s work ups the chances that you’ll get the same consideration in return. Of course, that won’t always be possible or practical; sometimes other work will take priority. But when that happens, make a point of filling in the other department about where their project stands, what its likely timeline is, and why. That on its own is a form of helpfulness, even when you can’t complete the work immediately.
3. Be a good colleague when it comes to making your own requests – and ensure that your team members do that as well. If your staff gets a reputation for being pushy or cranky when they need something from another team, you’re going to have a very hard time building a good relationship with that team yourself. Make sure that your staff members are aligned around how to operate when it comes from getting things they need from other departments – and that being courteous and appreciative is part of everyone’s M.O.
4. Don’t assume that things that are mission-critical to you will read that way to others. It’s easy to assume that what’s obvious to you will be obvious to others, as well – but especially when you’re dealing with another team, which has their own vantage point and their own priorities, don’t assume that. Particularly if you need to ask for something to jump the line or otherwise get special treatment, go out of your way to explain the context, so that they have the same information that you do about why the thing is important. It often makes sense to do this face-to-face, which lets you build more of a personal rapport than you can often get from an email. (On the other hand, if the department is known to hate in-person interruptions, factor that in to your approach.)
5. Recognize good work. It’s the same principle that you should use when managing your own team – when you praise something, you’re likely to see more of it. Genuine praise for the quality of work the other team produced can go a long way in making people feel appreciated, and when you make people feel appreciated, they’re more likely to want to help you out next time.