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Three Tips for Improving Interdepartmental Relations

By Jacquelyn Adams

You know those moments in your career when change is dumped into your lap, whether you like it or not? It could involve being shifted to a new position or even being let go. Whatever it may be, it usually involves some serious discomfort, learning and growth.

For Craig Cohen, this occurred when he stepped into the role of division vice president and general manager of ADP Marketplace, a digital storefront that sells HR solutions that integrate with ADP payroll platforms. Since Cohen worked in sales, liaised with other departments, and had a head for tech, he was chosen as the leader who could help ADP Marketplace gain its desired traction.

Cohen had to learn how to get his whole organization on the same page — and quickly. However, in his words, communications between even two departments could go something like this: “Product people: ‘It will take me 12 years and $22 million.’ Salespeople: ‘Wait… I need it now.’” Sounds fun, right? He certainly signed up for a whirlwind, but now you and I can benefit from his top three tips for navigating the choppy waters of interdepartmental relations:

Share a clear roadmap

Anyone who has ever worked with different groups on one project knows the joy of getting those groups on the same page. Did I say joy? I meant absolute headache. And it was Cohen’s job to get his five departments on the same page. This is why one of Cohen’s primary functions was that of bridge builder, and to this end he incorporated cross-training. Instead of departments making independent decisions that left the others scrambling to deal with the trickle-down effect, they were brought together. Proactive planning makes the journey easier for everyone. Each department understands the plan, how they will be affected, and what their role is. The end result is a clear map guiding them down the same path towards a shared goal.

Create a culture of mentorship

Having easy access to business leaders and outside advice can help lead to immediate improvement, both in terms of the work at hand and personal growth. With the benefits being so plentiful, Cohen developed a two-fold approach to mentorship.

      • Just-in-time leadership

Rather than being limited by weekly check-ins, Cohen’s team can send an email laying out any pressing issues. From there they can schedule an appointment in the next few hours and take 15 minutes to talk it through. While the benefits of these results are not limited to interdepartmental relations, this real-time mentorship can be a saving grace for real-life problems. Because when there is a snafu between departments or an issue requires clarification, waiting until next Monday’s meeting with the manager can absolutely be a bridge burner.

      • Gaining outside perspective

Cohen’s team members also have mentors within the company who are completely unrelated to their current job. These mentors often provide fresh eyes and a bigger perspective. He created this program for his staff having experienced the benefits of this unbiased, external perspective from one of his own mentors. His mentor noted trends in how he reacted to certain people and situations and encouraged Cohen to be more open-minded in trying to understand the struggles of the other department. Which leads us to our final point…

Keep learning outside your specialization

This is not the first (and probably won’t be the last time) we have addressed this here. #learningequalsgrowth

However, Cohen laid it out perfectly. He noted that, while he was in sales, working with the product department was always a source of frustration. It seemed there should be a way to streamline these efforts — why should it take so long to move forward with the new tech or product? However, he gained more understanding once he started really working alongside product teams. What about legal and security? If this new product is integrated with four existing products, how does that affect them? Previously he only knew his piece of the puzzle, but by working with other departments, he was able to see how they came together.

Understanding how things are made and understanding back office helps you do your job better. Again, it is not enough to know your own niche.

The results of Cohen’s interdepartmental efforts are plain. In the past two years, he has led the ADP Marketplace team to a 35% increase in new partners, and 83% growth in solutions offered. He was even recognized as a BT150 award winner by Constellation Research as a digital transformation executive leading 2020’s challenging environment and beyond. “We couldn’t have driven that kind of growth without strong communication and clear goals across all of our teams — sales, product, marketing, partnerships and business development,” Cohen says.

So now it’s your turn. How are your relations with other departments? What areas could use more growth and understanding? Perhaps these tidbits from Cohen will be the springboard you need to get that fresh perspective, learn a little more, and dive into solid interdepartmental relationships. In the wise words of Walt Disney, “Keep moving forward!”

Jacquelyn Adams is a career development enthusiast and an award-winning CEO. She lives in a world of constant exploration, whether it’s summiting Mount Kilimanjaro, delving into more effective employee training strategies… or discovering how she’d do in a chocolate eating contest (answer: last place). Find more of her Lessons on Leadership articles here or connect with her on LinkedIn here.


Jacquelyn Adams

Jacquelyn Adams, founder and CEO of Ristole, uses her column to delve into the wild world of leadership. Whether the article is about her days as a Peace Corp volunteer, exploring corporate training, or even grabbing lunch at Chipotle — she will come out with a story and her “top tips.” As she passionately believes in leveraging her platform to share others’ voices, her column welcomes guest bloggers to create a fuller and more diverse pool of experiences for her readership. So, welcome to “Lessons on Leadership” where you never know what the next article will hold: online networking advice, guidelines for creating a joyful workplace, or even puppies. Just keep reading to discover what’s next!

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