How to Keep Other Teams from Being Your Team's Roadblock

Sep 9, 2014
9 Min Read

If you're working with other teams outside your own who are not involved in your daily meetings (or Agile standups), they're not always on the same page as you regarding priorities -- and sometimes they can become a roadblock to your team’s progress. How can you address that without causing additional friction?

Four of our workplace experts have weighed in on this question to give you four points of view.

Alexandra Levit says:

Getting through organizational roadblocks, or simply trying to persuade a colleague to come over to the side of your priorities, is a rite of passage in the business world. People are so busy and things move so quickly that just being a nice guy isn't going to cut it. People who don't share your to-do list aren't going to adhere to it simply because you ask them to. If you want other teams to cooperate with you, you have to make them want to do what you're asking.  In other words, you have to take the time to consider: "what's in it for them?"

In order to find out what another team's agenda is, start by asking questions and listening carefully to the answers. What is the team evaluated on? To whom do members ultimately report up to?  What is THAT person's strategy? Then, begin looking for ways that your project can help another team accomplish what they are trying to do anyway. Actively communicate this when trying to lift your project off the back burner.

While it's sometimes effective to appeal to the greater good (i.e. in the best interests of the organization) when making your requests, you'll get better results the more personal you go. Don't think of another team as "marketing," for instance, but instead as a group of individuals who each have their own set of priorities. By going out of your way to establish rapport with each team member before you actually need something, you will be able to appeal to their needs in the future. They'll also be more likely to help you because you've built a relationship of mutual respect and trust.

Although it might be easier, I don't recommend complaining to the other team or a higher-up about the lack of synergy. This will only serve to annoy and cause the additional friction you are concerned about. Even if this approach results in short-term compliance, the other teams will resent you and future efforts to work with them are likely to be tainted. Remember the old adage: you catch more flies with honey than vinegar!

Alison Green says:

When you’re relying on other teams to get you something you need – or really, with anyone over whom you don’t have authority – it’s incredibly helpful to explain why you’re asking for something, how it fits into the larger whole, and the context for deadlines, especially if they’re urgent. Your requests will go over a lot better if the person you're talking to understands why what you’re asking for is important.

Moreover, because you don’t have authority over the other team, don’t assume that work is progressing on its own simply because you asked for it to be done. Instead, assume that you’ll need to check in and make sure the work is on track – and it will be easier to do that if you can find ways to engage as the work is moving forward. For instance, you might say, “I want to be able to adjust our marketing plans if online sales are lagging, so could we plan to touch base every couple of weeks about what you’re seeing?” Or, “I’d love to get a better feel for how the sales calls are playing out. Would you mind if I sat in on an upcoming one?”

And last, don’t be shy about acknowledging that you’re depending to some extent on the other team’s good will. It can make a real difference to say, “I realize you have other priorities going on, and I really appreciate you helping with this.”

Eva Rykrsmith says:

The most challenging aspect of cross-functional team resource management is that your priorities are not always your colleagues' priorities. This is quite often true regardless of whether your colleagues are part of your department/business unit or not. However, the common denominator is always your organization's priorities. Raise the scope one level up and take a look; what is an operational necessity (mission critical), what is a strategic initiative (big win), and what is everything else? Sometimes you may need help from leadership to get answers to these questions. To be able to have a conversation around shifting priorities without ruffling feathers, you must know what is on everyone's plate. Having this understanding can help you approach the conversation with empathy, be realistic about what you are asking, and ultimately, get to the bottom of what the most pressing priorities are.

Anita Bruzzese says:

Using a company intranet or some other cloud-based collaboration platform can alleviate a lot of aggravation because it’s easy for others outside your department to see daily updates, follow the progress of a project, or provide input as necessary. Often, the reason other teams become a roadblock is because they get peeved when they feel like key decisions that affect them are being made without their input or knowledge. Of course, you might just try inviting them to more meetings, but that’s not guaranteed to make them any happier (are you happier attending more meetings?) But with a company-wide system in place, everyone can benefit because teams become more closely aligned as they can continually see updates, changes, ideas, etc.

One final note: Don’t completely rely on such platforms to solve all your problems. You will still need to have personal interactions to maintain a positive relationship between teams. Happy hour, anyone?