Case Study: Addressing Leadership Challenges in Cross-Departmental Collaboration

Sid Mustafa
March 22, 2024

An organisation has embarked on a new journey, setting cross-departmental objectives that necessitate seamless collaboration among the subteam leaders from different departments. A team lead, Anisha and her PM counterpart, Gabriella, are at the forefront of this challenge. 

Historically, their collaborations have been fraught with difficulties, stemming from their divergent leadership styles, values and interpretations of the organisation’s needs. This issue isn’t isolated to Anisha and Gabriella alone; it mirrors similar conflicts and competitive tensions among other team leads from these departments.

Faced with the task of jointly charting a course towards a shared objective, Anisha and Gabriella find themselves at a crossroads, burdened by a legacy of unsuccessful collaborations.

As no change happens from one day to another, the manager(s) would need to participate a lot more in day-to-day operations and be on the lookout for friction to immediately address them or bring the specific people to the side and work it out.

Ricardo F.

Strategies Implemented

Anisha and Gabriella have previously attempted to bridge their differences and forge a path forward. These efforts, however, have been notably time-consuming and often fruitless, even with the involvement of other colleagues.

NOTE: Unfortunately, at this stage, we don’t have historical information on taken actions so it’s for everyone’s interpretation.

Challenges Encountered

Despite the extended deliberations, agreements remain elusive, leaving many initiatives incomplete.

The Key Question

How can Anisha and Gabriella overcome the longstanding friction between them and unite effectively to achieve their collective goal?

Your Thoughts

As fellow CTOs and engineering leaders, 

  • How would you solve this conundrum? 
  • Have you faced similar challenges in your leadership journey? 
  • How did you navigate them?

Share your experiences and tips in the comments. Let’s collaborate to create a roadmap for effective leadership in the dynamic environment of a start-up. Your expertise could be the guiding light for many others in similar situations.

Peer Advice (Actionable Solutions from our CTO Community)

Ricardo F.

Hi everyone! Before I give my take on this case, here are some points I need to highlight:

Having so many issues among team leads that seem to be craved on their way of working sounds like either the company culture needs to be revisited or it wasn’t well understood by the team and needs a lot of care in this aspect.

The involvement of other colleagues doesn’t explain what was done exactly nor if they were the right people for the job since not everybody is cut to handle these delicate situations. I’ll have to assume that the methods used and the considerations made were indeed well thought out.

From the leadership perspective, it sounds like they somehow were aware and tolerated these conflicts to happen and even affect the initiatives themselves, digging into their own problem at hand. Things should have been handled immediately and not allowed to scale it to this point.

Setting cross-departmental objectives when the team is not in a solid state, could blow and end up as the many incomplete initiatives in the past.

Now, my take:

Let me start by stating the obvious – anyone picking up the current scenario will have a hard time making it right since it’s not an isolated episode or a strict group of people, even when you, as a manager, have experienced such problems in the past.

Starting from the beginning, the manager(s) would have a 1-on-1 call with each of them and try to understand each other’s perspective. They should connect the dots of why there are so many conflicts which would potentially lead to a group call to address many of those points and bring the team back to cohesion. At the same time, they should make it clear that everyone is there to deliver their best work respectfully.

As no change happens from one day to another, the manager(s) would need to participate a lot more in day-to-day operations and be on the lookout for friction to immediately address them or bring the specific people to the side and work it out. Always without forgetting the 1-on-1s to listen and make sure the other person knows they are listening to their problems/concerns even when they don’t agree with them and some contrary actions need to be taken. Sometimes, people just want to feel heard and feel their opinions are taken into consideration.

Revisit the company culture, and make it open, inclusive and respectful. 

Try to buy in whoever you can to help you foment these points and flip the current situation to a good path.

Consider a gathering event, if it’s a remote type of company or some drinks in a video call on a Friday afternoon for the team to bond outside of work and try to find some common interests/perspectives.

If nothing works and the manager(s) see that no one is making the effort to even try, maybe consider an improvement plan and personalise it for each team member. In the end, either they get better or you’ll need to find someone to take the business on a good path. In other words, manager(s) shouldn’t drag the situation for a very long time.

I know I’m making some assumptions and the suggestions might be a bit generic, but as I said, it’s not an easy situation to handle when many members of the team are not working towards the same goal, delivering the objectives, even if they have different opinions/approaches.

I would love to hear more thoughts on this and maybe even contradict/question my take.

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