In every company I’ve ever worked for, interdepartmental communication has been a problem. Groups are viewed as silos instead of a part of a single well-integrated organization. Therefore, it stands to reason that the person who interacts seamlessly across departments would be a valued team member – a team member whom your group relies on to get things done and is least likely to be sacrificed in a layoff. How can you be that person? Here are some ideas:
E-mail your contacts from orientation: During the day or two you spent with HR at the beginning of your tenure, was there anyone who seemed interesting and went on to work in a different discipline? Invite her to lunch and find out more about her personally and professionally. Work to strengthen the relationship over time so that you have a friend to call on when your group needs something from that department.
Study the other departments: In order to be a cross-functional whiz, it helps to have a solid understanding of what the other groups in your organization do. Pretend you are interviewing for a position in each department and study the relevant online and offline materials. For example, if you want to establish a better relationship with R&D, learn about the product pipeline and attend a voluntary meeting of the innovation committee.
Walk around the building once a week: Slot a half hour to grab your coffee and meander around the floors of your office. While you shouldn’t stop and chit chat for too long, it’s a good idea to say an in-person hello to people in other departments so that they can put a name with a face the next time you contact them.
Engender cooperation: Always keep in mind that colleagues (especially those not in your group) don’t care what you want — they want to know what’s in it for them. By approaching negotiations with an attitude that allows both parties to win (i.e. do a good job and stay out of trouble), you’ll be more effective at eliciting cooperation and ultimately getting what your group needs.
Be the mediator: If a dispute between two colleagues is causing a breakdown in communication and/or effectiveness between departments, set up a formal meeting to discuss the issues. Once you are all together, tell the arguers that you wish to clear the air by talking to them one at a time about the situation and then allowing the other to respond to what was just said. Remain impartial and encourage the arguers to come to a mutually-satisfactory resolution.
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