Departmental Rivalries and Conflicts

Field Versus Office Tensions

The field hates the office and the office hates the field. It doesn't have to be that way. Here's how to fix field versus office tensions and get the departments to work together.

It's very common for employees in the field to not get along well with employees in the office and visa versa.

When departments don't get along -- whether its field versus office or sales versus marketing or some other interdepartmental conflict -- the business as a whole suffers.

Here are fifteen things you can do to improve relations between the office and the field and eliminate interdepartmental rivalries.

#1 Don't Simply Hope for the Best

A hands-off or overly busy executive will often turn a blind eye to conflicts between departments. The executive gets involved only when things get to the crisis point and then the executive's resolution may be capricious, myopic, inconsistent or uninformed. In order to resolve conflict between the field and the office, the senior executive or owner must approach the problems systematically and holistically. Once the manager does this, the departments will start to get along better as issues are addressed. The key is not to just hope that employees will resolve issues on their own. Managers need to manage, and they must be hands-on in resolving organizational conflicts.

#2 Remind People Why Getting Along and Working as a Team Is Important

Those who work in the field think primarily about their work in the field, whereas those who work in the office think primarily about their work in the office. A better approach is for everyone to view their work holistically, thinking in terms of how the entire company is doing. By simply changing the perspective of employees from a departmental perspective to a companywide perspective you will be creating an environment where teamwork is appreciated and embraced.

#3 Structure the Organization Right

The company should have one executive who is above the field and the office. A single executive or manager should be responsible for the field. A single executive or manager should be responsible for the office. In this way, when the groups don't get along or things are not working, three senior people can get together and resolve the issues.

#4 Eliminate Ambiguity on Roles and Responsibilities

Department tensions flare and employee conflicts arise when roles and responsibilities are ambiguous or constantly changing. Define job descriptions explicitly and make sure employees understand what is expected of them and what their limits of authority are.

#5 Hold Useful Regular Meetings

Most organizations that have departmental conflict are organizations that rarely get employees from different departments together for meetings. Not having meetings creates a communication void that leads to misunderstandings and reduces camaraderie amongst employees. Without company meetings and cross-departmental meetings, people operate in silos with little loyalty to the firm and only loyalty to their own department.

#6 Streamline Operations, Processes and Systems.

It goes without saying that an unorganized business that is run by the seat of the pants will have more departmental tensions than a business that is highly organized with good, documented processes and a strong systems infrastructure that ensures good communication, ready access to shared documents and an objective record of who did what when. Bring in a consultant to fix your process and technology issues and you'll be surprised how employee conflicts between the office and the field suddenly dissipate.

#7 Don't Make Exceptions for Rule-Following Based on Tenure

A senior person in the field will often feel that the rules don't apply to them and they can do it their way, rather than do it the company way. Based on their tenure in the organization and the fact that they are critical to the company's making money, they may treat the office inappropriately and not follow the rules (e.g. not turning in the necessary paperwork that they are supposed to turn in). As the leader of the organization, you cannot allow this. Everybody has to play by the rules. No exceptions!

#8 Don't Let Issues Fester

When interdepartmental issues arise, resolve them quickly. Keep your door open and listen when employees in the field or the office have complaints. Act quickly, but take the time to think about the issue from a systemic perspective. Promise a fast resolution and work towards one but manage expectations by informing employees that it may take time to figure out the right solutions.

#9 Define Interdepartmental Task Turnaround Times and Create a Prioritization System

If the field asks the office to jump, should they jump? Similarly, if the office requests something of the field, should they drop everything and assist the office? Resentment grows when task requests between departments are ignored or not treated as not being a priority. To resolve this type of issue, ask employees to classify interdepartmental requests as being Urgent, Medium Priority or Low Priority. In addition, define expectations for turnaround times on interdepartmental requests. With more clarity in place, tempers will not need to flare.

#10 Use Behavioral Modification Tactics

Whether it's by using a carrot or by using a stick, you need to correct and modify behaviors that exacerbate interdepartmental conflict. Employees won't get along for the sake of getting along. You need to creative incentives that encourage departments to get along.

#11 Eliminate Sexist Attitudes

If the field refers to the office as "the girls," you've got a problem with sexism in the office. Sexism is further evidenced by references to things like "catfights among the girls in the office" or "hormonal female issues making it difficult to get along with the office." There's no place for this sexism in the modern workplace. Hire a workplace diversity consultant and work to eliminate sexism from your company. With that issue behind you, you'll find that the field and the office get along much better because people will treat each other as equals regardless of sex, skin color and other irrelevant factors.

#12 Foster Job Empathy

Much of the tension between the field and the office occurs because the field doesn't have empathy for the office and the office doesn't have empathy for the field. To resolve this, have employees in the office go out to the field and spend a day with field employees. Similarly, have your field employees come into the office and spend a day learning what the office employees do for a living. Once the two groups understand each other and appreciate the other group's daily challenges, you'll find that they will work together much more productively. By the way, another way to do this is during your employee onboarding process - expose new employees to everybody else's jobs before you train them on their own job.

#13 Eliminate Poison Employees

Some people were not born and raised to be team players. Something about their psychology makes them sabotage the organization as a whole and causes conflict between them and other employees in the organization, or even problems with external customers of the organization. In some cases, these are otherwise strong individuals with an unfortunate character flaw that they poison the ability of a company's employees to work as a team with high morale and respect for others. Replace these employees with equivalent or better talent that knows and appreciates the value of teamwork.

#14 Boost Morale

It goes without saying. When employee morale is high, there's less likely to be interdepartmental conflict. Take everybody out for lunch. Give a bonus. Buy donuts. Go to a baseball game. Whatever you can do to boost morale will help to alleviate conflicts between the field and the office.

#15 Sell More Business

This is not a cure to the root cause problem that causes interdepartmental conflicts, but it's an important determinant of how much conflict you'll have between the field and the office. Specifically, when business is good and the company is doing well, employees can tolerate small conflicts and tensions. When business is bad and employees may be worried about their job security, mountains are made out of molehills and small conflicts become big conflicts. It's not easy but if you can bring in more work and revenues to the company, you'll buy yourself time to fix some of the core issues that are causing your field employees and office employees to fight each other.

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Do your office and field employees not get along? Why? What do you think could help to eliminate or reduce interdepartmental conflict at your company? Please share your thoughts, questions and experiences regarding conflict between the field and the office.

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