Interdepartmental communication is a challenge that almost all businesses and organizations face. Different departments have their own managers, their own atmospheres, their own team member rapport, and their own ways of doing things.
For the most part, these distinct departments can stay in their own little worlds. However, from time to time, departments do have to communicate with one another, and that need can easily lead to conflicts, missed deadlines, or other problems without the right strategies in place to optimize interdepartmental contact.
The place of marketing
Marketing teams are in a tough spot in most organizations because their responsibilities require almost constant interdepartmental communication. The marketing team has to work with the creative team to bring their ideas for advertising, image, and brand awareness to fruition.
They also have to collaborate with the sales team to cultivate leads, learn more about their target audience, and keep the brand growing; they have to stay in touch with the customer support team to learn more about buyer personas, provide a more effective social media experience, and improve customer satisfaction ratings.
The question is, how can these disparate departments stay in touch and work together as a cohesive whole? Here are five tips to help you improve communication between your marketing and your creative, customer support, and sales teams.
Create opportunities for face-to-face communication between departments
Scheduling too many meetings throughout the work week will kill your employee productivity and cause irritation. However, if departments aren't communicating with one another effectively, semi-regular opportunities for face-to-face interaction are a must.
Get the heads of your marketing, sales, creative, and customer service teams together to set shared goals or strategize monthly schedules, or bring the entire teams together for interdepartmental conferences or team-building activities.
When the people from your separate departments have more opportunities to communicate in-person — instead of just over email — they will get to know one another better and start seeing one another as people. This distinction seems obvious, but it can fall by the wayside in the age of technology, and is a must if you want multiple departments to work together as an effective team.
Optimize digital communication and collaboration
Promoting face-to-face interaction between different departments is a smart idea for building a shared vision and establishing a team mentality, but it simply isn't realistic to have your different departments interact that way all of the time. Your departments are situated in different parts of the building, and perhaps even on different floors. Some people might even work out of the office.
Needless to say, digital channels will be the foremost means of communication for your separate departments when they need to collaborate. What you can do is optimize digital communication to the point where it is more seamless, more convenient, and more personal.
Instead of having everyone stay in touch via email, opt for a collaboration app. There, you can share public or private discussions with other people on your team, set up a calendar, assign tasks, share documents and files, and more.
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Communication through this channel will be faster and more convenient than email and will make it easier for team members from different departments to get the information they need to do their jobs.
Ask your teams to brainstorm their need-to-know information
If you are having communication problems between your marketing and sales teams, or between any other two departments within your organization, there's a good chance that the issue boils down to one team not getting the materials or information they need from the other.
For instance, a marketing team relies on the sales team to learn more about their audience and formulate more effective marketing strategies; sales teams, in turn, rely on marketing teams for leads. When communication is working between these two groups, they form a mutualistic symbiotic relationship.
The sales team provides the information that helps the marketing team generate new leads while the marketing team provides the leads that the sales team need to bring new customers on board and learn more about target audiences.
The lack of cohesion between sales and marketing departments costs B2B organizations at least 10% of revenue per year
When communication isn't working, though, marketing experts can start to resent salespeople and vice versa.
"This person isn't getting me the information I need to do my job; therefore, they are not doing their job."
Some variation of that sentence is the prevailing mentality of interdepartmental relations when a communication breakdown has occurred.
To fix this issue, ask people from each of your teams to make lists of the information or materials they need from other departments. Tell your teams to be selective: they should only list information if it is essential.
Usually, by thinking just about the essentials, each department will come up with a very manageable list of what they need from each other department. You can then distribute these lists and charge each of your departments with communicating necessary information to other branches.
Foster an environment where your departments understand each other's jobs
One of the biggest problems with communications in most businesses — and probably one of the primary sources of frustration for most of your employees — is a lack of interdepartmental understanding.
For instance, the marketing team might not understand what the creative/design team has to do to bring a visual marketing idea to life and might, therefore, expect a completely unrealistic deadline. In such a scenario, the creative team gets upset because they feel like they are being asked to do the design equivalent of running a four-minute mile.
The impossibility of the marketing team's request might even be a source of mean-spirited jokes among your frustrated designers, which can lead to an air of disrespect and contempt between the two departments. At the same time, the people in the marketing department are frustrated that their deadlines aren't being met and feel the designers aren't doing their jobs. More disrespect; more contempt.
How can you solve these misunderstandings? You don't necessarily have to send people from each department to shadow professionals in other departments. However, promoting mutual understanding between your different departments is a must to foster respect and communication.
Leave some time for a meeting to discuss interdepartmental expectations and how they may or may not be realistic. You can give each department a chance to do a presentation on what they do, what sort of tasks are involved in their jobs, and why certain parts of the job take a long time.
When your different departments have a better understanding of what the others do — as well as the challenges that the others face — they will be more respectful of limitations and will communicate better to determine what is and is not a realistic request.
Make a list of the consequences of poor communication in your organization (and commit to fixing them)
When departments are just shouting at one another about the information they need and when they need it, it can be difficult for the "why" of the situation to swim to the forefront. Why is it important for this department to have this piece of information? Why does prompt communication between different departments matter? Why does that department feel entitled to my work or my data?
The best way to answer these questions is to ask each department in your organization to make a list of what happens when they don't get the information they need from other departments. Sit your marketing, creative, customer support, and sales teams down—and not just managers, but the individual team employees as well—and have them brainstorm honest unexaggerated lists.
Ask each department to think critically in terms of cause and effect here. If the sales team doesn't get the information they need from the marketing team, or if the marketing team has to wait past deadline for a design concept from the creative department, what is the result? Do team members have to work overtime? Does the company miss a deadline and have to push back a release date or project completion date? Does an advertising slot the company paid for go unused?
Talking about consequences helps force a realization that something needs to change. In this case, it can send the message to all teams that interdepartmental communication is important—not because another department is entitled, but because poor communication affects the company's bottom line.
Small changes for a major impact
All businesses face different challenges, depending on their size, industry, and purpose, but there might not be a challenge more universal than communication. Today, humans have a wider array of communicative means than ever before, but it often feels like technology has pushed us farther apart rather than bringing us closer together.
Luckily, by using the right technology for your team and following the rest of the strategies laid out above, your organization can establish a teamwork mentality once again. Your departments may not have the same specialties and they may not even understand each other, but by fostering stronger communication, understanding, and respect, they can and will learn to work together as one.