As much as we might proclaim ‘one’ culture in an organisation, the reality is that even the most united of organisations all have subcultures, and they are usually between divisions, or teams. We see it regularly in cross-functional interactions. In fact, I think we can all think of times where we have felt that we are working in different organisations because of apparent differences in prioritisation, and/or the difference in reception to various recommendations, strategic initiatives or mandates.
Roger Schwarz tackles this topic in his recent HBR article, “Getting Teams with Different Subcultures to Collaborate”, where he suggests a three-pronged solution to this challenge that has the potential to overcome these cultural differences.
#1 Understanding what team culture is and how it works
Although you may operate within ‘one’ organisational culture centred on a shared set of values, often, teams can work outside of this, or act in a different way to what they say. Even if there is only a slight deviation, this difference can create issues. If a culture is ‘its shared values and assumptions’, you need to observe carefully first, digging deeper than just the surface.
#2 Identify the culture of your team and the other team(s), separately from the ‘one’ culture
Let’s take an example of this. If a company’s values are ‘hunger for growth, results, integrity and collaboration’, finance teams may identify more readily with the values of ‘integrity’ and ‘collaboration’, whereas a sales team may identify with the values of ‘hunger for growth’ and ‘results’ more readily. Compounded by the fact that various professions prioritise various values as core to success, we already have a misalignment between these teams that could cause serious issues when working together.
#3 Use this awareness in dealing with your counterparts that recognises value differences
The next step Schwarz suggests is to jointly design a solution that recognises the difference in cultures, however, practically, this may not be something you can do every time you have a conversation across functions.
An alternative solution might be to use this newly developed understanding of the difference in cultures to manage your interactions. Just like you would when operating across geographies, employing emotional intelligence, sensitivity and an understanding of differences in thinking to your style of engagement. Think about positioning your arguments, or suggestions, to appeal to the other team’s value set, and/or provide a way of relating and linking your values with theirs.
Taking the example from above of the potential differences between sales and finance teams, imagine a scenario where you are partnering together to drive an improvement in forecasting accuracy as an executive mandate. You, prioritising ‘integrity’, want accuracy, but your sales counterpart, ‘hungry for growth’, believes that they are doing the right thing by over-forecasting to drive the ‘results’ they need to.
Above all, collaboration is about never assuming that you partners are naturally on the same page as you, even if you work in the same organisation, with a shared set of values. Take the time to understand that people work from difference value sets, and you are much more likely to achieve desired outcomes, in a more collaborative way.