“Mr. Khrushchev, tear down this wall.” These famous words were delivered by President Reagan at the Berlin Wall. President Reagan understood that the people of East and West Berlin were better united then separated. The President spoke of the wall as not only a physical barrier but as the symbolic division of the ideologies of the east and west. He saw the wall as a barrier to the potential of the people of Berlin. Walls go beyond the strong physical boundaries we see. Walls serve to divide and weaken those that are separated.
What walls do you see in your daily life? I have spent the past 30 years, armed with my sledgehammer, picking away at walls in the workplace. They exist everywhere. The very nature of an organization, separating departments and responsibilities encourages walls. As managers, it is our responsibility to tear these walls down. In my career at Walgreens, I found walls between pharmacy operations and Self Service. Walls created within each individual store, serving the same customers. The words “They” and “We” were often used. When the walls were removed, synergy occurred. 1 + 1 equalled 3 and sometimes 4. Everyone grew and the stores became an exciting place to be.
Workplace walls are usually created through lack of knowledge. While the company may have a clear, well communicated vision, individual departments may not fully understand other departments roles in that vision. Companies break down operations into departments and groups that specialize in specific aspects of the operation. By nature, sometimes these specific aspects are at odds with one another. An accounting group charged with reducing costs to deliver a competitively priced product might be at odds with a production group looking to decrease lead times that feels they need additional staff. Without a thorough understanding of one another’s goals, walls form. “Us” and “Them” begin to enter the vocabulary. “If it wasn’t for them, we could meet our objectives”. The more engaged the team members the greater change for walls.
These walls, if ignored grow ever higher and stronger. They begin to hamper progress in all departments. They create tension and animosity in the office. Managers must be vigilant to walls forming and like President Reagan, tear down those walls.
This past week we had walls forming at Ebsco. Both departments on either side of the wall are outstanding and fully engaged in their jobs. In fact, their enthusiasm for their jobs helped push them to form the walls. They knew where they wanted to go and were not going to let anyone impede them. Our President, Ms. Dooley saw the walls forming. She took immediate action, meeting with both departments. She listened attentively to their frustrations and reasons for building the walls. After meeting with both groups she initiated ongoing meetings with the two departments to discuss these issues. The meetings will allow them to get rid of the “them” in their vocabulary and replace it with “us” including the other department. They will combine their individual skills and talents to jointly tackle problems. Synergy.
At Ebsco we have formed several cross department teams which were designed to increase knowledge and communication between departments. We have developed the Ebsco U training program that teaches team members what other departments do. We work hard to address issues before walls form. With all of our efforts we still have walls. The key is to address those walls and find solutions before they grow and are still easy to tear down. Walls are a natural occurrence in organizations. The key is to be ever vigilant and address the walls as soon as they appear.
If you allow walls to form through out the organization, you will eventually have a maze of walls that loses the objectives of the organization. Watch for walls, find their foundation and destroy them. Destroying the walls will allow the organization to successfully meet their objectives while creating a better working environment for everyone.