Matrix Management

What TV cop shows teach us about collaboration and turf wars

I was watching an American TV cop show this week and was struck how often in these kinds of shows turf wars and lack of collaboration across their silos is both normal and celebrated.

A typical scenario has different agencies – choose any two or three from the FBI, NYPD, Military, CIA, Government, local sheriff or City Hall, fighting for jurisdiction over a case or situation, withholding information from their colleagues and creating antagonism between themselves.

One of the agencies then goes on to “win” by keeping information to themselves and solving the case despite the lack of collaboration of the other.

Now, I have no idea whether this represents the reality of law enforcement, though it is a pervasive theme. I also know that following 9/11 there were significant changes to encourage collaboration across the agencies to prove collaboration and information sharing – I don’t know whether this worked or improved the situation.

In business we have our turf wars too, sales tussle with marketing and R&D, everyone chafes at control from central functions like legal and HR, even when they know there are good reasons. Everyone likes to be in control, but no one likes being controlled.

However, in business we have an overall goal and a shared key measure, we need to satisfy customers and we need to make a profit, so at the end of the day we have a mechanism for overriding turf wars to get things done – even if the process can be painful.

In organizations, like law enforcement and, for example, our National Health Service in the UK, where the voice of the customer is muted and the profit motive is missing it gets much harder to resolve conflicts between the silos.

We need an overall shared goal and a mechanism to connect our actions across complex organizations in order to meet that shared goal. Presumably the American TV cops want to solve the case but their actions often lead to suboptimal collaboration and information sharing and actually make it harder to solve the case.

That’s not to say that we shouldn’t have conflict, in fact the smarter and more passionate our people are, the more we should experience conflict and different opinions about the right way to get things done. This is fine provided we have the skills to manage and resolve that conflict – an important capability in complex organizations.

It’s worth taking a look inside our real organizations and asking where turf wars and silo mentality and getting in the way of doing the right thing for our customers and for the effectiveness of our organizations.

Turf wars may make TV great drama but they are not an effective way to get things done.

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