In one company I work with, I spent time developing both retail leaders and customer service leaders. I found a consistent pattern as I worked with both groups…they blamed each other for the same customer service problems. Not only did they blame each other during discussions in our workshops, they did it when talking to customers.
I know this first hand because I’m also a customer. I had an issue and talked with someone in the store about it. He told me that he couldn’t do what I needed from the store, but if I called customer service, they could do it. He went on to joke about how they didn’t have the power in the stores to do these kinds of things because customer service wanted to keep all of the power to themselves. I called customer service and was told that the representative in the store shouldn’t have told me the solution was possible, because it wasn’t. She went on to tell me that they tell customers that in the store all the time and then customers call in and get angry with her because she can’t do what they want.
As a customer with a problem, the last thing I wanted was to hear people from two different departments insulting each other. I didn’t care about their frustrations with each other or internal policies; I just wanted my problem fixed. I left both interactions with negative feelings. Could something like this happen in your company?
To ensure that inter-team conflict doesn’t lead to mistrust and resentment ultimately impacting your customers, do the following 3 things immediately:
1. Set expectations on your team.
Set the expectation on your team that they are never to speak poorly of any other department in the company to a customer. The customer doesn’t care about internal politics and just thinks poorly of the entire company. If there is a problem or a concern, it should be dealt with directly with that team or it should be brought to you.
2. Instill a solution mindset with your team.
Rather than focusing on the problem and finding someone to blame, coach your team to think about what they can do to solve it. As long as teams focus on complaining about problems and blaming others, those issues will only grow. You can help instill this solution mindset in your team by challenging them to come up with solutions to problems they identify.
3. Build relationships across teams.
The example above is common with retail and service, but there are many other departments that have a history of this type of behavior. Leaders need to take the first step. Reach out to the leader of the other team and begin to understand each other’s goals, challenges, and motivations. Connect others on the teams through joint training or shadowing. Often inter-team conflict results from a lack of understanding. When team members understand each other, they can focus on helping each other and lose the “we, them” mentality.
We used all three strategies during the work I did with this company and the results were amazing. The first thing to stop was involving the customer in their disputes. As they got to know and understand each other better, the disparaging comments internally stopped as well. For the first time, they actually proactively call each other when issues arise and work together to find solutions.
Do your teams experience inter-team conflict? How is it impacting your teams and your customers? If you’d like help dealing with conflict in your organization, contact Dr. Heather Johnson to discuss options customized for your situation.