By Christine Alemany
No matter how siloed roles or departments are, no one works in a bubble. What happens in marketing affects finance. And finance’s forecasts have ramifications for customer service. In such an interdependent world, managers must learn to open up with all stakeholders or risk losing others’ faith — and losing profits.
Managers have to constantly interact with other parts of the organization to do their jobs well. As a departmental head, you need to be able to explain to the other managers what your team's goals are, how you plan to achieve them and why that is good for the company.
The upshot is that open communication between departments makes employees see and embrace their roles in the organization as a whole, which helps them become actively involved in companywide success.
The Art of Interdepartmental Communication
Moving toward more transparent communication takes time, energy, and behavioral changes. Try adjusting your style and protocols in the following ways to increase the flow of genuine information in your workplace:
1. Share and share alike
Often, collaboration between departments can break down silos and spur innovation. Someone who is not directly involved in your day-to-day activities might have valuable insights.
Recently, in one of our client meetings, it was brought to my attention that a new product was being introduced that might be competitive with what they were already working on. One of my first thoughts was "Heads up! Do the price people know this?" That is the type of information that needs to be shared among departments. If an adjustment needs to be made, the rest of the teams will be aware of what will need to be done.
One of the biggest keys to success is for managers to focus on the interest of the company rather than the individual positions. This does not necessarily mean teamwork, as managers might have different goals. It means finding common ground that would be in the best interest of everyone involved. Unwarranted frustrations can easily be avoided if one department's objectives can be supported by the other departments.
Collaboration and trust can be formulated through team check-ins, interdepartmental reviews and informal meetings for team members to touch base.
2. Express your goals
Take things a step or two beyond collaborating with the other departments. Share your vision so other teams can gain an understanding of their roles in the completion of your project that will achieve a major company win.
Outline the strategic process you have plotted to reach your goal, and share it with other teams to ensure everyone's resources and priorities are aligned.
Set objectives and a process, and then customize it for all teams. Start by analyzing the information you already have at hand. That will help you decide on the best course of action. Implement the strategy, but continually evaluate the factors to keep all the teams on task.
While managing profits and losses at Dell, I learned to be specific when setting priorities. I presented my team's numbers during weekly meetings. If we were behind, we had a three- to five-step catch-up procedure. If we were hitting our goals, we set up a plan to help us stay ahead. Interdepartmental communication works the same way.
Workers will live up to plan expectations and prioritize them if you help them understand their roles in the company hitting its projections.
3. Rely heavily on metrics and advanced analytics
People tend to take action based on their gut, so be prepared to have supporting information if you need to provide an alternative. Actionable data helps take the conversation from personal to practical. The more supporting data you get from marketing, finance, sales, product development, and other teams, the simpler it will be to implement your plan without getting tons of blowback. After all, if the numbers do not line up, you will need to formulate a different plan.
For example, in a public company like Dell, a junior person’s error could have a ripple effect that drops share price. The wisest way to avoid foreseeable problems like that is to share metrics with the junior employees and hold them accountable for key performance indicators that they can affect.
Not only does this improve buy-in, but it also helps everyone focus on what matters and quickly pivot when necessary.
When you know how to communicate with people, they tend to want to communicate with you. Eventually, people will turn to you as a leader because they realize you will have or will find answers. And that is exactly where you need to be to motivate others to succeed for themselves and the corporation.
Transparent communication can be challenging, especially when you realize others are not practicing it. Yet it helps everyone row in the same direction. Best of all, it reduces the fear of the unknown and sets the company up for heightened employee trust and all the advantages that come from engaged teams.