To get meaningful work done in organizations, effective interdepartmental communication is a must. In a study on change and communication ROI, Towers Watson concluded that "companies with high effectiveness in change management and communications are three and a half times more likely to significantly outperform their industry peers than firms that are not effective in these areas."
Most of us have experienced both effective and ineffective interdepartmental communications and understand how much better we as individuals and our teams perform when we communicate effectively. The CHRO can play a vital role in removing barriers and putting processes in place to help teams accomplish departmental goals while at the same time achieve overarching organizational strategies.
Here are three strategies for improving interdepartmental communication:
1. An Organization Without Boundaries
To improve interdepartmental communication, take a page from two old Jack Welch concepts: the "boundryless organization" and a process called "work-out," according to an article in the Harvard Business Review. GE found that managers were spending far too much effort working through interdepartmental processes and could not seem to get people together to achieve cross-functional work. The work-out process brought teams together in set intervals to specifically address interdepartmental needs. Teams would then have the information they need to truly work together in pursuit of common objectives.
2. Good, Old-Fashioned, Proactive Relationship Building
The Association for Talent Development reports that one of the barriers to effective interdepartmental communications is strained relationships in organizations, which generally lead to a lack of trust. Without strong relationships, people are less willing to communicate with each other.
One way to improve interdepartmental communications is to improve relationships one person at a time. If a manager needs to work regularly with a manager in another department, the managers should make a consistent and proactive effort to build a strong relationship.
There are many ways to do this. For example, meeting for coffee or lunch regularly, offering to help with projects not necessarily related to initiatives both teams need to work on or even offering excess resources during slow times are all great tools. Performance improvement consultants, FranklinCovey, would call these trust deposits. One can build trust, and therefore channels of communication, by being the first to offer help, praise or friendship without expectation of receiving something in return.
3. Facilitate Collaboration
FranklinCovey also finds that there are two other main barriers to effective interdepartmental communication: physical separation and systems separation. It is difficult to communicate with other departments in different locations or time zones, or who use different software systems not accessible to the other departments.
In order to improve interdepartmental communication, organizations should have systems in place to allow people to communicate and work harmoniously. Email is one tool, but if teams perform actual work in systems that each does not have access to, there is still a barrier to communicating.
Using systems like enterprise software networks, collaborative intranets, and cloud-based software that allow people to work on projects asynchronously in a centralized repository eliminates the need to work on documents separately and juggle multiple versions.
Interdepartmental communication is mostly about people and relationships, but in a world of dispersed and complex matrix organizations, having systems and tools in place to enable communications is critical.
Organizational performance may depend on it.