It’s no news that there are tensions between a company’s business development / digital innovation and the day-to-day business operations. On one side, you have a team of enthusiasts focusing on the Big Next and on creating the digital future of the company – and on the other side, you have the operations focusing on delivering on financial targets and complying with regulations while providing excellent customer service daily

The tensions arise when the development team pushes for new products and services faster than the operations team are able (or willing) to deliver them -  this is further enhanced by the cultural differences; business development believes in create, deploy, fail, try again and the operations believe in playing it safe and making absolutely sure all changes has been tried and tested before going live

And both parties are right, of course. Business development must deliver a continuous push to move the business (digitally) forward and operations must deliver a similar push-back to ensure operations are reliable and adhere to the set governance and compliance structures. It’s comparable to the current talks about agile IT development and two-speed IT, operating with a fast-moving layer for quick deployment and a slow-moving layer for stability and security

Cooperation, not frustration

The big challenge is how to manage both sides and how to spur cooperation instead of frustration. Begin the process by inviting the teams to a day of inspiration and discussion – an offsite workshop on neutral grounds with the following key points:

  1. Establish a logical understanding of the differences – the first step is to make both sides understand the main purpose of the respective unit functions. I’m not suggesting that this removes the tensions, but this first step is necessary as a building block for a future modus operandi. Gather the teams and have the head of each unit present their targets and key success criteria for their unit thereby at least laying a common understanding of the differences in goals and measures of success

  2. Facilitate an open discussion between the teams on how these different targets and success factors creates tension. You may use the post-it method where each participant writes down the tensions and frustrations on post-its which are then gathered and grouped – collect and put the findings on a white board for all to see and read and elaborate on some areas where needed

  3. Discuss how to mitigate each of the identified areas. Once grouped, open the discussion for each area and note down the teams’ suggestions on how to remove or improve the tension of the areas – be very specific and make sure to note concrete actions with responsible named as well as deadlines. You also need to understand what it takes for the responsible to deliver – time, investments, management support, etc.

  4. Isolate the ‘bad seeds’. It’s often taboo to speak about ‘bad seeds’ or collaborators but fact is that they exist and that they can be impossible to ‘turn around’ or even in extreme cases getting rid of. There can be many reasons that colleagues that are deliberately seeking own winnings or obstructing teamwork have to stay in the company. In these cases It is imperative that you realize this is the case in fact and take actions to isolate them as much as possible. Don’t let their obstructions ruin your efforts on creating a shared understanding of the team differences

This is hard work, of course, and if you’re not making sure to address these issues very frequently, this – like all other change management programs – will simply fall to the ground and become nothing more than time wasted. As leader, it’s your responsibility to keep talking about the issues, mediating the differences and constantly referring back to the peace (or truce) meeting and the action points identified and agreed

Don’t expect your teams to do this by themselves as they’ll very quickly fall back into their routines – this is completely normal and basic human behavior. Change is not easy and only happens through constant focus. A very important task for you is 4) from above; the isolation of the bad seeds. In many cases, there will be team members who do not wish to cooperate, team members who see more value in pursuing individual targets on the expense of the overall cooperation between teams and units

The ‘bad seeds’ must be identified and dealt with – either through direct and open dialogue or, where dialogue won’t work, by accepting their presence and isolating them going forward. Agreed, this is not optimal at all and behavioral change should be the main focus – my point is that sometimes it’s simply not possible and once all options and initiatives have been exhausted, last resort is the isolation of these obstructers

The most important is to identify the differences and working with your teams to make them understand – and accept – that they exist and that this a norm that cannot (and should not) be changed. The change must happen from within the team and that’s your responsibility


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