Author: Nick Darlington

Nick Darlington

About Nick Darlington

Nick Darlington is a B2B writer who conceives, writes, and produces engaging website copy, blog posts, and lead magnets for technology companies. See how he can help your business by visiting his site and scheduling a no-strings-attached call.

How to Deal with a Disconnect Between Teams

I once worked as a business development manager for a startup. As someone who was responsible for new projects, I was very much client facing and interacted with many different departments to ensure project success. One of these departments was the software development team.

The developers spoke a different language. Whenever we had conversations, they used technical terms I didn’t understand. Whenever we talked about timelines, I was unable to get a firm commitment in writing. Whenever we discussed the possibility of creating a particular solution, I received a host of reasons why it wasn’t possible and very few why it was.

The developers weren’t receptive to my suggestions and didn’t want to share information; communication broke down at every corner. There was a disconnect.

When faced with a disconnect like this between teams in your own company, how do you deal with it?

Understanding the Disconnect Between Teams

A good starting point is to discover the reasons for the disconnect. Sometimes these reasons are obvious and explainable through differences in job roles. Other times, they’re less clear cut; one bad experience between departments, for example, can cause long-lasting friction and resentment.

Job Role Differences and the Effects of Silos

Companies consist of various departments, marketing, sales, technical, IT, finance, etc. These departments operate a certain way and often using jargon only they can understand. The employees in these departments also have jobs to perform.

Anything outside their job is viewed as a distraction, so they ignore it. And it makes perfect sense: Everyone has limited time and focus; if employees were to constantly worry about other people’s jobs and focus on those details, their own would suffer. Some form of disconnect will always be present in a company. This, then, partly explains the disconnect I had experienced with the software development team.

Problems arise, however, when silos are formed. According to Business Dictionary, the silo mentality is defined as “a mind-set present in some companies when certain departments or sectors do not wish to share information with others in the same company. This type of mentality will reduce the efficiency of the overall operation, reduce morale, and may contribute to the demise of a productive company culture.”

The software development team had formed a silo, with subsequent negative effects on efficiency, productivity, and my ability to communicate to clients and deliver projects on time.

Beyond Job Role Differences

Sometimes, though, other underlying factors cause friction. As I soon discovered, after speaking with the developers and watching how some sales employees interacted with them, resentment was underlying.

The developers had far too many negative experiences with certain sales representatives in the past—the ones who had promised clients unrealistic software solutions within ludicrous timelines without first consulting the software team about the constraints and then expected the same team to bend over backward to deliver, the ones who had walked into the software department and demanded project updates, and the ones who had viewed the technical team as workhorses instead of human beings.

The developers had begun to associate anyone from that department, including me, with those negative experiences, so they pushed back out of resentment.

Finding Ways to Remove the Disconnect

Armed with an understanding of why the disconnect exists, you can now find ways to remove it. There’s no one-size-fits-all strategy—it will depend entirely on whether the disconnect is caused by differences in job roles or if it’s something more severe.

If the disconnect is due to a difference in job roles, employees should list what information they absolutely need (and what they don’t need) from another employee to do their job properly.

In his article on workplace silos, Andy Silber uses the example of how a sales team needs information on new product launches, the cost of those products, and product features. He also adds that specific details, such as where the product was built and the production methods used to create them, aren’t necessary unless those methods are part of the unique selling proposition.

The point is sometimes, you just need to let others know what information you need to do your job. By keeping it relevant and on point, you don’t waste their time or yours. Remember, you are part of a company and will likely receive the same request from another employee in the future, so return the favor and create a culture that values the transfer of information.

If the reasons for the disconnect are something more, then you need to regain the trust and respect of the other department. There are various ways you can do this, such as treating people like human beings and making business decisions based on their input. In my case, I did the following—and yes, you guessed it, it was the exact opposite of what the sales types they’d grown to hate would do:

Instead of making unrealistic promises to the client, I first consulted the software team to get realistic timelines and an understanding of what was and wasn’t possible. The team was very much part of the entire process, and they knew that.

Instead of barking orders and demanding updates, I treated the team with respect. I kept them informed on project progress and asked for regular project updates, which they happily shared because I treated them well.

Instead of only caring about the client and final outcomes, I showed a genuine interest in their work. Taking the time to understand their world and how they operate reduced any friction between us. Over time the developers became more receptive to my suggestions and the barriers that once existed all but evaporated. We were now a team. We collaborated. We communicated. Most importantly, we treated each other with respect. All these factors combined contributed to our success.

An Alternative Approach to Dealing with the Inevitable Team Conflict

“The way a team plays as a whole determines its success. You may have the greatest bunch of individual stars in the world, but if they don’t play together, the club won’t be worth a dime.”—Babe Ruth 

Among the many critical project success factors—detailed plans, accurate estimates, and clear communication—a strong, unified team is arguably one of the most important. Without it, conflict prevails that—if left unchecked—can derail your projects.

Understanding the importance of a unified team, today project leaders focus heavily on building the right teams—ones consisting of members who not only have strong complementary skills but also work well with others. But, even among the strongest of teams, conflict is inevitable.

The Inevitability of Conflict

Conflict is part of being a human. Strong personalities do often clash; people come from different backgrounds and have different values. Combine these personality nuances and other differences together, and you have the perfect recipe for success—and conflict.

When conflict inevitably occurs, how do you deal with it?

Dealing with Conflict: Do You Really Need a Plan?

In a perfect world, every conflict would be the same and easy to deal with. People would react the same to every situation and even feel the same. You’d know all the variables, have one plan, and understand exactly what to do. Each and every time.

However, human emotion is a variable that’s hard to control. You cannot predict with certainty how people will feel or even react, making it even harder to determine how they’ll work together.

With conflict potentially being so varied and unique, is it really worth having a plan to manage it?

Sure, you could create “X” number of steps you follow to deal with it and adapt those to every situation, starting with the most obvious: Identifying the cause of the conflict.

From there, you could call a meeting for those involved and encourage them to listen to one another’s problems in the hopes they find a compromise. Even then there are no guarantees, and you’ll likely have to find a mediator.

The above is certainly a viable approach that many project leaders use, but I’d like to propose a different one.

An Alternative Approach to Handling Conflict: Don’t Manage It

Two years ago, while building my business, I was part of an accountability group with three other people. We met weekly to not only hold each other accountable to our goals but also to share ideas.

Seeing as we would spend much time together and maybe even jointly work on future projects, my friend suggested we take personality tests to understand our behaviors and analyze team dynamics.

She introduced us to Shadowmatch, an online behavioral mapping system used by companies, coaches, psychometrists, and psychologists to recruit precisely, to understand the unique behavior of an individual, and to develop people, team analyses, team onboarding, and team building.

Indeed, it was the team-onboarding, team-analysis, and team-building features that were particularly useful. After completing the tests, Shadowmatch mapped our results on a graph for comparison. The platform pinpointed

  • our individual strengths and weaknesses,
  • overlaps (similarities) in these strengths and weaknesses,
  • certain behaviors all of us closely exhibited, and
  • those of us who showed vastly different behaviors.

Each of us could access the results to view the team dynamics. By analyzing the comparisons, we could identify potential conflict points from the start. This identification, in turn, meant that we were better equipped to deal with any conflict because we understood the reasons for it.

The Many Benefits of Members Understanding Team Dynamics

You certainly don’t have to use a tool like Shadowmatch, but if members in your team better understand their own behaviors and those of others, they too will be empowered to tackle conflict themselves, without your involvement.

You and your team will benefit from the above approach in many ways:

  • Behavioral mapping can help you better structure your team from the start. For example, you can identify members who aren’t a good fit and assign them elsewhere.
  • You will spend less time managing your team, meaning you have more time for other essential project tasks.
  • Members will get to know themselves better and understand why they do what they do.
  • Members will learn to deal with conflict in a constructive way. You’ll probably find that those members who continuously clash will begin to laugh about it as they learn to celebrate and appreciate their differences.

The Bottom Line

Team conflict will always remain inevitable, but managing it doesn’t have to be. Empower your team by giving them the tools and means to handle conflict themselves, and you’ll both benefit. You will spend less time managing and more time leading, and your team will learn that their individual differences are actually the biggest strength of all.