I remember the days when I worked in the banking sector as a Product Manager in the Home Loans Division. I found it fascinating when my department worked with other departments such as Marketing, New Home Loans Acquisition, and Home Loans Registration because there seemed to be a tug of war between the teams with a prevailing ‘us versus them’ mentality. For instance, as the Home Loans team we believed that Marketing didn’t understand our products and hence, we perceived that their marketing strategies and the research reports they produced on our behalf were inadequate in scope and didn’t effectively communicate our objectives. Conversely, the Marketing department thought that we were too demanding and our expectations too high. They claimed that we caused them to be defensive because they felt attacked and unappreciated despite their efforts. As you can imagine, the situation was ripe for conflict. Though we were equally professional and the conflict fortunately never escalated, it existed and prevented meaningful collaboration for better performance. As in most workplace conflicts, the two departments firmly held their positions and didn’t attempt to understand each other’s divergent arguments.
In hindsight, when I reflect on these events, I realize that although we maintained a level of professionalism and decorum, there were several factors that caused us to remain conflicted and divided at the same time. I will share three of these factors below and demonstrate ways in which we could have resolved this conflict:
1.Power Struggle – Because the Home Loans department produced substantial revenue for the bank, it’s likely that we believed ourselves to be more valuable and integral than other bank departments. Can you see how becoming a little egotistical about how much we were contributing financially could cause us to expect that the other departments should accept our perspectives without challenging us or sharing their own opinions? At the same time, can you see how the Marketing department could feel that since they were the experts in their domain, no other department could significantly contribute to the marketing strategy? In either case, there was a power struggle that hindered our working relationships and opportunities for collaboration.
Solution: How could we have avoided the power struggle conflict?
Both teams could have been cognizant that the other team had valid points of view and their respective objectives. Both teams needed to trust that each team had the expertise and was very capable of delivering on their mandate. Instead of being critical, each department, or individual team members, should have been supportive of each other as they contributed to the bank’s success. Conflict can be better managed when the expertise of each department is recognized and valued.
2. Silos Mentality – I’m of the opinion that the bank unfortunately operated on a silo-based mentality; meaning that there was a lack of understanding and appreciation of how its departments interoperated and their impact on one another. In this workplace conflict example, to the Home Loans team it seemed that not only did the Marketing department fail to fully understand the Home Loans products and services, but they also didn’t appear interested in seeking this understanding. Our side believed that the Marketing team was offering us the same generic marketing solutions as the other bank departments – an unacceptable level of effort! Of course, this mentality exacerbated the conflict because it reduced trust, morale, and efficiency. However, it’s very possible that we didn’t have the full picture of what their team was doing or their reasoning. (To understanding more on the Silos mentality visit: https://almentainternational.com/silos-how-do-you-overcome-them/
Solution: How could we have overcome the silos mentality?
As teams and as an organization we should have worked toward building a cohesive culture that facilitated cross-team collaboration with more opportunities for the departments to interact and work closely. Efforts such as holding joint meetings and creating focus groups could have been very beneficial toward establishing that true culture of collaboration, building trusting relationships, and minimizing conflicts to achieve a win-win relationship.
3. Lack of Curiosity – I think as Home Loan department members we didn’t ask the appropriate questions to understand the Marketing department or appreciate their work processes and ways of thinking. It was easy to see them as a department that did things differently, but we lacked the curiosity to seek understanding. Not surprisingly, the Marketing team did the same. Home Loans had different types of products targeted for different audiences that required different marketing tactics. Meanwhile, Marketing perceived us as ‘difficult’ and having an overly complex business model with too many different products. Given this dual lack of understanding and curiosity, opportunities to learn from each other and maximize the potential found in our uniqueness were sadly missed.
Solution: How could we have overcome the lack of curiosity?
Our teams could have resolved our long-standing conflict through the power of curiosity. If we become curious about something we start to educate and inform ourselves by asking questions and gathering information. The questions we ask should dig deeper and offer in-depth insights and understanding of the situation. True curiosity is free of preconceived notions and ideas and open to new and different viewpoints.
How are you managing conflict in your organization?