How to Build Better Partnerships

Posted on April 3, 2012.

A friend of mine recently called with a dilemma.  Turns out that he and some of the folks on his team were overheard berating people on another team, and it got back to their manager. “ I know we shouldn’t have voiced our opinion, but they really don’t understand what we do”, he said.  Gee, that’s unique, one department not appreciating how difficult the other department’s job is.  Think credit and sales or help desk and users.   Can’t we all just learn to get along?

Years ago, I was so vocal about our own credit department that I was sent to Charlotte to meet with the credit team so I could better understand why they were always being such jerks.  Unfortunately, my flight was on 9/11/01 so I missed the opportunity to become enlightened.  The reality is that the manager was terrible at her job, created a toxic environment and was eventually let go.  Did I feel vindicated? Hell yes.  But what kind of message did I send my own team about partnership and leadership?

Over the years, I’ve learned that there are some things you can try to do to foster better partnerships besides just complaining and criticizing.

  • Have regular manager-to-manager meetings. Reach out to the manager of the department giving you the biggest challenge.  Set up a phone or in-person meeting with the premise of forging a better relationship.  Start the meeting by asking what his or her perception is of your department.  Make sure they know that the conversation is confidential and encourage full honesty. Don’t be defensive-just listen. Thank them for the feedback. Commit to having these meetings on a regular basis. Over time, the camaraderie you develop with this manager will result in a better understanding of what both teams really do and the challenges they face.
  • Send envoys to each side. Having some of your team spend a few days on the “other side” and vice versa can foster a better understanding of the challenges each team faces.  Seeing first hand the processes, competing demands or resource constraints can help each team fully appreciate what the other is dealing with on a day-to-day basis. Since in person visits can be expensive both in time and money, limit them to the groups that create the greatest conflict and lack of understanding.
  • Create a team building experience. Working with the other manager, try to develop something fun to do that everyone can get behind. If you’re lucky enough to be in the same building, it can be something as simple as a pizza party. Events that aren’t centered on business help everyone get to know each other on a personal level, which results in greater understanding. If you’re geographically disbursed, develop something online, like football or basketball pools. Of course, if your company has rules against gambling, you need to make sure the prize is not monetary, but maybe a day off for the winning team.

It’s easy to think only of how other departments can effect you and your team.  But taking a closer look and foster a more collaborative environment will create a win-win for everyone.