By Kim Jong-nam
For example, I recently provided consulting for a company that had undergone three M&As. Therefore, they had three different subcultures, which was a serious obstacle to communication and collaboration between employees. As the workforce was comprised of people from three different corporations, employees didn't share a common language (different terms were used for the same tasks) or expectations (understandings of roles and responsibilities for the same positions varied). These unmerged cultures resulted in an organization that was disjointed and disorderly.
However, this corporation's issues are actually relatively easy to resolve. Merely clarifying and simplifying the roles and responsibilities would be enough to bring about a common understanding of expectations. Some organizations have much more complex problems whose optimal solutions cannot be found as easily. This tends to happen in situations where it is difficult to tell whether the issues are due to collisions between individuals or due to cultural problems. This is when organizations tend to procrastinate on solving these conflicts.
If the inter-team or inter-departmental issues are personal collisions, the parties in question usually disagree because of different mindsets and/or behaviors based on their personality type and preferences. In particular, the personalities of team leaders can have an enormous impact on inter-team and inter-departmental communication and cooperation―if, for instance, two leaders just do not get along, teams will not share information, will not make decisions that benefit the whole organization, and will tend to concentrate on their own interests. Furthermore, executing inter-team projects becomes much more difficult due to a lack of a common objective.
If, however, the inter-team or inter-departmental issues are due to cultural problems, the entire team or group will show a specific behavior and/or mindset. Since individuals tend to be influenced by their groups, it is easy for conflicts between groups to escalate into conflicts between entire teams and even departments; the deepening of these conflicts makes the issue even more difficult to resolve. Thus, when to intervene to try to stop this deepening should also be taken into consideration.
These problems are not all. There are more sorts of organizational silos, such as those that result from different expectations of groups toward other groups, from a long-standing unclear relationship between two or three teams, or from unresolved controversies. Organizational problems and issues buried under history and culture usually take time to define, find effective solutions for, and resolve.
If the issues are specific to particular teams or departments, approaches to these issues should be differentiated every time due to the teams' or departments' unique roles, the specific history of the problems, the organizational culture and work processes, and, more than anything else, the people involved. This means that established methodologies will not work effectively for all situations. Thus, leaders' approaching issues with predetermined strategies and a determination to look for someone to blame is not effective.
To prevent this, there should be someone in the organization who can act as an intermediary to resolve differences. However, if the intermediaries do not play a significant role or do not get recognized, this will not help, and may even backfire. Thus, it is imperative that the correct diagnoses, methodologies and implementers are selected. Finding solutions does not necessarily mean that a problem will immediately disappear entirely, since inter-team and inter-departmental issues tend to have deep-rooted histories and cause complex emotional entanglements. However, with meticulous and consistent care, these problems can start to slowly shrink.
Kim Jong-nam is the founding CEO of META (www.imeta.co.kr) and the author of two books, "Organizations without Meetings" and "Breaking the Silent Rules."