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In a perfect world, cooperation between different departments in an organization is a smooth and streamlined process. It is easy to combine complementary skills and knowledge and work together for a common goal; you also know exactly who is in charge of what and how to give feedback, ask questions or request changes.

Unfortunately, social collaboration in most organizations is not always so simple. Departments often operate independently from one another, and it can be time-consuming or confusing (and sometimes downright frustrating) to figure out how to navigate hierarchies, processes and rules different from our own.

For example, consider this hypothetical situation: you are a manager in the marketing and sales department of a company that does most of its customer sales online. Your company’s website is outdated, and your staff is constantly receiving complaints from customers who have had problems with their online orders. You have been lobbying for several months to get approval for a website overhaul that will simplify and improve the online ordering system for your customers, but you have gotten the runaround. After talking to managers in the technology and accounting departments without making any progress, you become frustrated and table the issue. Social collaboration between departments has become an obstacle instead of a solution. Sound familiar?

Ron Ashkenas, an author and managing partner of Schaffer Consulting, wrote a blog post for the Harvard Business Review website this week discussing this common problem. Though Ashkenas recognizes that these situations are challenging, he argues that it is the managers’ responsibility to take the initiative to break out of their comfort zones and do everything possible to achieve interdepartmental social collaboration.


The reality is that all of us live and work within a personal box that constrains what we think we can do. Obviously part of the box is determined by official limits set out in job descriptions, hierarchical arrangements, and formal work rules. But a large part of the box — perhaps even most of it — is self-created and self-imposed. We work within our comfort zones, doing what we think we should do and what we are used to doing. And most of the time we don’t question, challenge, or test those limits, which makes them self-perpetuating.

If managers want to succeed in today’s organizations, they are going to have to redefine their limits and go beyond their traditional comfort zones. Instead of being constrained by reporting lines, they need to driven by whatever it takes to get results (within the limits of respect and integrity) — and if that means chasing down people in other hierarchical structures, so be it.

The comments on the blog post show contradictory opinions from readers: some agree with Ashkenas’ proactive point of view, while others think the “get it done by any means” mentality can actually be counterproductive in an organization.

What do you think? Is this approach the most effective? How have you successfully overcome social collaboration obstacles in your organization?


Learn more about EDSI’s Challenging the Status Quo course.

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