The following piece is not out of a Management Textbook, but rather the result of the cumulative years of experience of a few consultants working with companies trying to improve their work practices
When working with clients we struggled to understand why a particular department might blame another department about some injustice or incompetence. When you speak to the accused department, they have similar complaints about what they have just been blamed for. Both departments think they are not the problem, because they have complied with what was asked of them.
Many times, we have come to realize that the opposing parties are saying the same thing, but just with different words or phrases. General concepts and descriptive wording always allow for a certain amount of interpretation of the same words. For instance, if we say “communication is good” that could have many different meanings to different parties.
Again, we go back to one of our core principles and that is we would rather deal with underlying reasons than trying to solve the issues on the surface or as we call it “effects”. We can categorize the causes of misunderstanding, conflict, and misrepresentations into five major contributors in modern management.
These are the contributors we deal with in most of our consulting sessions.
· Unclear outcome expectations
· Misalignment of Stakeholder expectations - Poor alignment of outcomes
· Poor conceptualization of the final service or product – Poor Proof of Concept
· Being too general and vague – Using the incorrect words
· Poor understanding of the underlying motivation or reasons – Causing poor buy-in?
A proposed solution is to get the involved teams to work together, or you can do the following exercise with each team individually.
The team members list all their problems, issues, challenges, and concerns in a visible format on a flip chart or white board. Once completed the team separate the causes from the effects on their list. The teams then focus on the identified causes or underlying reasons. Many times, the different teams have the same underlying reasons, which is normally a huge eye-opener for all the team members.
The general theme through all these kind of problem situations are that the wording used is not specific or detailed enough and is confusing and open to various interpretations. The wording is often not “aligning” the common priorities for the teams involved. Once the descriptions are aligned it is possible to agree on common actions for moving forward.
Client Success Story
An Operations team noted they were experiencing a major problem with the Procurement team not delivering outcomes as promised. The Procurement team complained they were receiving endless “change requests” from the Operations team. At the outset, they were blaming each other and were not even prepared to have a joint meeting to resolve their issues. Our consultants interviewed each team separately and noted their concerns. The Procurement team mentioned they were held responsible for certain functions which they had never agreed to. The Operations team expectations from the Procurement Department were very general and not aligned to the expectations of the Procurement department.
Immediately it was realized that it was the same two culprits causing the problems as in most conflict situations.
· Vague wording
· Non-alignment of mutual expectations
The consultants explained the GAP to the Operations and Procurement teams and helped them to successfully align the requirements together.