Two of our departments are at war. Help!

Back when your business was small, it hummed. The different parts of the business all worked well together, the teams understood and respected each other, and they helped each other out.

It wasn’t hard to get the business to behave in this way. After all, the “head” of inventory was the only person in inventory and he sat next to the “head” of sales, who was also a one-man band.

They were a jovial pair; laughs in the office, drinks after work. Of course, they listened to each other’s issues and made sure that their “departments'” activities supported each other.

But that was when the business was just a handful of people. Now you’ve got departments with whole teams, big teams. The “head” of inventory really is the “head” of a team, a team he works with, sits with, drinks with, jokes with and grumbles with.

He doesn’t see the “head” of sales much. Not because he doesn’t like him, but because their paths don’t cross. Except for in management meetings, company days and work situations.

And there have been a few situations of late.

Depending on who you speak to, it seems that “sales” have been making promises to customers which “inventory” have then stuffed up. Or, as the opposition would tell it, that “sales” are making promises to customers without checking first with “inventory” that the promises are possible.

The departments are at war. And it’s spilling over into the rest of the business.

If this is happening in your business then a radical, but stunningly effective, solution is to swap the heads of the warring departments round.

Yes, the Head of Sales goes over to inventory and the Head of Inventory goes over to sales. Permanently… or if you can’t stomach permanent, at least for three months.

I did say it was radical, and it’s not for the fainthearted. But if you are really committed to changing your business, it works.

The swap has the most amazing impact on the organisation. The swapped “heads” bring new ideas into the departments, they learn better how the business really works, and they get almost instant clarity on how to solve the previous “situation”.

And you don’t have wait until you have a “situation” to get the benefit of this. A manufacturing company I know swapped all of the department “heads’ around in one fell swoop. After a month or so of, er, mayhem, the business stepped up to a different level. It’s been on fire (in a good way) ever since.

Julia Bickerstaff’s expertise is in helping businesses grow profitably. She runs two businesses: Butterfly Coaching, a small advisory firm with a unique approach to assisting SMEs with profitable growth; and The Business Bakery, which helps kitchen table tycoons build their best businesses. Julia is the author of How to Bake a Business and was previously a partner at Deloitte. She is a chartered accountant and has a degree in economics from The London School of Economics (London University).

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