What is an organizational divide?
Every organization experiences a “great divide” on occasion. This type of divide can be quite problematic and occurs when teams or individuals across the organization fail to connect, communicate, coordinate, and collaborate on important interdisciplinary projects or assignments. For example, a great divide can occur when a product-design team doesn’t think through what the production and operations team can profitably produce for a customer (or engage them in understanding what is even possible).
Another example of this phenomenon might be when the pricing team doesn’t coordinate with sales, or the sales team fails to adequately explain to the design team what the customer actually wants and needs from a product or service. And then the cycle of confusion or conflict continues, even though everyone ultimately wants the same thing: better results for the organization.
What are the negative effects of an organizational divide?
Unfortunately, this divide has many costs associated with it. It can cause a lot of pain, frustration, and unnecessary expense for stakeholders, not to mention the people who are involved more directly. It can create problems and risk for customers, too, showing up in the form of quality issues, delivery delays, and service problems that appear during the launch and fulfillment cycle.
How to dispel or prevent an organizational divide
Fortunately, organizational divides are entirely avoidable and relatively inexpensive to correct if one thing is done just a little bit better: communication. The most prevalent cause of these issues is a failure to communicate adequately early on in the process. Teams simply have to reach out and start talking to each other. More talking leads to better understanding of different points of view on key issues.
When you begin to understand other people’s logic and where they are coming from, it enhances the level of respect and trust on all sides. When that happens, people become more creative, open, and capable of tackling difficult problems and dilemmas. This leads to the creation of innovative solutions to really sticky problems in areas like production, design and development, pricing, and procurement.
For some organizations and teams, the divide is wide and deep. This can take a significant toll on the organization. In our work with many organizations and teams who are in this situation, we have found that an “alignment meeting” will help to close this gap. Fortunately, alignment meetings can be very powerful and don’t take a lot of time. They are typically approximately three hours long and the discussion is carefully planned in advance and facilitated by a neutral party. The goal of this meeting is to provide a forum for the relevant parties to talk, listen, and make commitments about how people should behave and work with one another differently going forward.
Bringing people together within or across functions to talk about how to close the organizational gap takes some discipline; it’s important for the discussion to stay focused on the essential behaviors, skills, and practices that are preventing the key players from coordinating and collaborating with one another most effectively. To get the best ideas, thinking, effort, and solutions, you need to unlock the synergy and creativity that comes only when people are able to talk, listen, and act in ways that enhance the entire enterprise—not the interests of one person or group. This is what’s called an “enterprise mindset.”
We have had the good fortune to experience, participate in, and facilitate the magic of alignment meetings. You can, too. If you and others can muster the discipline to take a little time out and bring people together in a situation where true constructive openness can occur, people can and will share creative ideas—which will help you and the members of your organization enhance understanding, build a culture of collaboration and continuous improvement, and achieve amazing results together.