how to build better relationships with other departments

Ever seen those people who seem to know and work well with everyone in your company, and as a result get things done faster and better?  You can become one of those people too, if you put some effort into building relationships with other teams.

Doing that isn’t just about building personal relationships – although that certainly helps – but about paying attention to the way you work with other departments and the signals you send when you need their assistance. Specifically…

1. Pay attention to how they prefer to communicate. You don’t have to totally subsume your own communication style to another department’s just to build good relationships, but it’s worth paying attention to how they seem to prefer to communicate and factoring that into your own approach. If, for instance, your I.T. department has a ticketing system for new issues, they’re not going to be fond of the person who always walks over to report a problem. More subtly, if you notice that you get faster answers from the marketing team when you pick up the phone and call them, you might find it useful to adapt to their style when you need something from them, even if you’re a dedicated emailer.

2. Be thoughtful about the messages you’re sending around how you prioritize their work. You may not have a lot of control over how you need to prioritize another department’s work; after all, if the CEO needs a project done ASAP, that’s probably going to trump everything else. And of course, business needs should determine where projects fall in your queue. But it’s incredibly helpful to explain to people how you’re prioritizing their work and why, even if it means saying, “Realistically, I may not be able to tackle this until September because I have two product releases I need to finalize and a high-priority project for the sales director.”

3. Understand that they need to prioritize things too. Sometimes people get frustrated and antsy when another department isn’t moving their work along quickly enough – and sometimes that’s reasonable, but often there are perfectly sound reasons for the schedule they’re on, such as projects that have a higher level of business-urgency than yours do. Forgetting about that and pushing to jump the line is a good way to make another team really, really annoyed with you.

4. Explain the “why.” Especially when you’re making a last-minute request or asking for a significant amount of another department’s time, explaining the larger context – the “why” – will usually make people happier about helping out. If you just send over a major job and say, “Sorry, but we need this by Monday” with no further context, you’re likely to generate grumblings and resentment (and make people less inclined to bend over backward to help). But if you say, “I know this is a rush, but we just learned about this today and if we’re able to get it finalized by Monday, we’ll be able to have it in people’s hands before the summer sale ends,” it’s going to go over a lot better.

5. Keep them in the loop. If you’ve ever had another team neglect to tell you that they were pushing back the timeline for your project because something more important bumped it, or that their director nixed an element that was important to you, you know how frustrating it is not to be kept up-to-date about things that impact your work. Make sure that you’re not doing that to anyone else, by being vigilant about keeping people posted about the status of their projects and any changes that they’re likely to care about.

6. Don’t coast on friendships. Work relationships do matter – they matter a lot – but don’t fall into thinking that you can coast on a friendship when it comes to timely, high-quality work. Consistently doing great work and getting results is one of the best ways to build relationships with other teams, and without that, social bonds alone will usually end up failing to salvage things.

{ 14 comments… read them below }

  1. Ad Astra*

    Really digging that stock art. It says “Hey, I just finished taking a family portrait in my jeans and white button-up, so now it’s time to get some work done at the beach. Towels are for suckers.”

    1. Josh S*

      The photos at QuickBase are picked by someone-who-isn’t-Alison. So it’s kind of pointless to critique that.

      Actually, even if they had been picked by Alison, it’d still be kind of pointless to critique. :/

      1. Ad Astra*

        Oh yeah, I was just laughing at the general silliness of stock photos. I don’t think it detracts from the content or anything.

        1. AlexF*

          I was going for “don’t be an island,” but I agree the picture looks more like “don’t take your work with you on vacation,” vs. “deserted island/castaway.” :) Some days I have more brain cells left over than others.

          I still get a kick out of these three I chose a while back. I try to go for something funny, or subtle (“oh, he was referring to bullet point 3 with this photo, haha), or as relevant as possible. You never know the mood I’m in that day.

          Happy reading,
          The Fast Track

    2. Amber Rose*

      Who doesn’t like pockets and underwear full of sand? I know I work best when it feels like my butt is being bitten by fire ants.

  2. AMT*

    “This is my relationship-building outfit. Shoes create barriers. I don’t believe in barriers.”

  3. Kyrielle*

    Being responsive – even if the work can’t happen then – can go a long way for this. So can the little wins where you can do something quick and easy for them, and turn it around faster than you had to. Just make sure the little wins don’t come at the cost of the big priorities, but often, I’ve seen a 5-minute task of high importance to department X get sat on for a week or more by department Y because other things are higher priority for Y. Yes, yes they are, but if it only takes 5 minutes and that 5 minutes doesn’t jeopardize priorities (because all it takes is a dozen 5-minute tasks to eat an hour, of course)…do it! If it’s going to take you just as long to put them off (email, fielding the phone call to make sure you understand they need it, etc.)…just get it done.

  4. jmkenrick*

    I love #2 and #5. What I need, first and foremost, is an answer for my boss. When things aren’t happening, it’s so frustrating to say that I’m in the dark and just waiting to see why we haven’t received X deliverable before we can move on.

    If I can just say: “oh, unfortunately X was delayed because the director needed Y on short notice,” that makes everything so much better.

    Without a timeline and updates, I just feel like I’ve thrown a step out in the netherworld and, since ultimately I’m responsible for it, I’m going to drive you crazy with my (polite!) nagging.

    1. OfficePrincess*

      Exactly. If you have to build a diamond-encrusted tea set for the CEO to present to the King of Tealand, obviously that can come first. But I’m not going to just forget I asked you for specs for the new handle design. So if you don’t tell me what’s going, I’m going to think you’re ignoring me and keep bugging you and neither of us will be happy.

  5. Sabrina*

    I’d also add, don’t imply that they aren’t doing their job right. Fast track to the bottom of the pile for that and every future request you send.

  6. Mints*

    I think related to #4, is proper thanks AFTER the special request too. I would get this with certain Sales people (who are all the bad Sales sterotypes) who would really pile on the “This request is for a customer who is best friends with the CEO” and then after I got it done would just dissappear. It made me want to make sure I sent a follow up note when people did special things for me (nothing elaborate or gushing, just like “Thanks again for all your help on this one! I know this guy was a pain!”)

Comments are closed.