Inter-Departmental Conflicts

A mid-size manufacturing company where most employees had strong bonds within their work cells and departments. Yet they openly lament their lack of interaction with other areas of the organization, and the lack of inter-departmental relationships was beginning to cause friction in the company’s larger production processes.

Assessment Insights

The root causes of this topic were tied to the organization’s growth. Increase in headcount and physical layout decreased human interactions not directly related to an individual’s day-to-day responsibilities. Employees were unable to take action to remedy that on an individual level due to the initiative, time, and measure of social courage required. Given the dropping average age of the company’s workforce, it was not surprising to see a correlation between the broader societal trends of declining interaction present in Generation Z and a company-wide perception that there are fewer social bonds crossing work areas than in the past.

Applied Methods

While we implemented an action plan, we pushed members of the leadership team to cross departmental boundaries for routine day-to-day interactions. Their absence outside of their own functional areas had been serving as a behavioral norm, which was being modeled by their reports and reinforcing this issue.

We sought to develop the average employee’s awareness level of other areas’ contribution to their production process. In order to do so, we had to establish routine interactions with those areas. We began by recruiting knowledgeable and respected, experienced employees from each cell systematically to shadow for a few days with the production cells who executed the process steps both before and after their own. Those individuals would then return to their own cells with a member of those other cells to shadow their own. When the shadowing was completed, we brought groups of these employees together for working sessions where they would exchange and discuss the needs of one another’s cells throughout the process. This created bridges between cells and departments by forging new, cross-functional relationships across production. It also created a new sense for an internal customer mentality where each cell knew what was important to the people they were passing off work-in-process to. This created a sense of care for the outcome of work, because a real person is counting on it.

It is also worth mentioning that new hire orientation had not included introduction to all steps of the production process. New hries were only introduced to their own areas. So a version of the above was incorporated into new hire training to ensure that this practice was occurring from the beginning of employment.