Making Interdepartmental Communication Work with a Difficult Department

As a software product manager, I’ve worked in both welcoming and hostile environments for interdepartmental communication. The bad environments often have silos. Silos can promote misunderstanding, finger-pointing, personal conflict, and stereotyping. Trying just 3-5 of the following practices can turn inadequate, unfriendly interdepartmental communication into enjoyable, healthy interdepartmental communication.


Work for your organization; not your department. As much as you can, be the best value to your organization. That means breaking down unnecessary interdepartmental silos and establishing a cooperative environment.

If it’s especially hard to get together, start putting it on a calendar that you need to talk to them. Silos are enabled by physical separation and long periods of non-communication. Get past the silo-causing activities.

Avoid blaming others; it’s an easy tactic to use to come off as the one person who knows what she is doing, but it is often bad for your organization’s health. There are people who make careers out of pointing the finger at other departments, but those people often increase conflict within the organization. Don’t be the one who makes an entire department hate you.

If you perceive someone is a bully or a manipulator, avoid a confrontation as long as you can. Bullies are terrible for an organization, but don’t confront a bully unless you know you’re likely to win. It gets messy fast, and unfortunately, sometimes the bully wins. Organizations often have no idea what to do about their bullies.

Avoid using tough love on another department. Don’t say, “It’s the only way they learn.” I always avoid having a “sink or swim” kind of scenario for anyone I work with, because what happens if they sink?

Your department is not smarter or better than any another department. I’ve worked with people who have the idea of “don’t talk to the bozos on the third floor.” It’s hard to believe how common that mindset is. Even if a department has limitations or negative traits, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t capable of coming up with an idea that helps your organization succeed.

Talk to other departments in their preferred method of communication. I have worked with several people who avoided email communication at all costs. Email threads can spin out of control quickly with interdepartmental communication, but you’re still going to need to put things in writing sometimes. Likewise, talking to people verbally also has its limitations, but you’re going to need to have meetings sometimes.

Don’t dwell on the negative traits of another department. When you dwell on the negatives, you start to talk about that department’s weaknesses with others. Then that perceived inadequacy starts to become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

If someone in another department takes initiative in doing something in your job description, praise them for it; don’t treat it as a threat. While it’s totally understandable to feel threatened in this sort of circumstance, an awesome person rises above that feeling and supports the effort of that person.

Promote a two-way street of information sharing. Don’t just have those kinds of interdepartmental meetings where it’s a monologue. Plan to listen and have a discussion. If there are too many participants for a dialog, figure out how to promote dialog in another effort.

Don’t just tell people what they want to hear; tell them what is going to happen. I’ve worked with people who only said “yes” or “that’s a great idea” to other departments. When deadlines were missed or roadmaps didn’t include the request, it led to them feeling like they’d been duped. Tell the other department the real plan, and you’ll promote openness and trust.


Do you have other tips or examples of interdepartmental communication working? Leave a comment!

One Response to Making Interdepartmental Communication Work with a Difficult Department

  1. Jackie MacDonald

    There is a great deal of wisdom in this post, starting with #1 – “Work for your organization; not your department” and right through to the end. It is vitally important to think like an organization, not a department.

    I am commenting on two points:

    If you perceive someone is a bully or a manipulator, avoid a confrontation as long as you can.
    If you perceive someone is a bully or a manipulator, organize (or have HR or Occupational Health and Safety) organize a workshop on bullying that identifies what bullying is and is not, approproate and inappropriate behaviours and responses. Bullying is workplace violence; when bullying behaviour is the norm, the organization is sick. Education for both managers and staff is better for workplace recovery than avoidance.

    If someone in another department takes initiative in doing something in your job description, praise them for it; don’t treat it as a threat.
    Convergence of duties may be common but it is organizationally unsound for staff in two different departments to do the same work, regardless of shared approaches (skills, competencies and standards) and similar compenstion. If someone in another department takes initiative and does something in your job description, do some fact finding. My first question would be “Do they not have enough to do within their own job description?” then “Is there something wrong with the way you are doing it?” & “Are they unaware of your established service?” If you are a records manager who provides training in electronic file management according to RIM principles and standards, and someone from another department offers file management training based on colour coding and astrology, dig around a bit and find why – perhaps your approach is too difficult or not practical. If this persists, as your supervisor to discuss the issue with their superviser. Suppose the quantity of work exceeds your capacity to do it. Then a planned solution that include a review of the task standards, and skills and competencies required to do the work is a better approach than having someone in a different department start up offering ad hoc services.

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