Making Decisions Together (When You Don’t Agree on What’s Important) - Sarah Cliffe - Harvard Business Review

Posted on by Brandon Klein

Most strategic initiatives are run by teams whose members are drawn from around the company — from different functions, different business units, sometimes different countries. When it’s time to make decisions, these teams often run into trouble because individual members’ interests aren’t perfectly aligned. I spoke about the tensions inherent in collaborative work with Jeff Weiss and Jonathan Hughes, consultants with Vantage Partners and authors of a best-selling HBR article that addresses this topic: What Collaboration? Accept — and Actively Manage — Conflict.

Why do so many conflicts arise when people from different functions or units work together on a project?

Jon: Because they have different priorities and metrics for success.One group’s accountable for managing costs, for example, and another group’s responsible for growing market share. There’s a built-in tension between the two goals — that’s as it should be. These are natural checks and balances. But obviously such tensions can create dysfunctional conflict.

Where do these conflicts tend to arise most often?

Jeff: It always shows up in discussions about budgets and resource allocation. Who will pay for what in a joint project? Will new projects be given priority over existing ones? What project gets the top talent?

For our clients, conflicts often arise when a multi-unit company is bidding for work. If several units with different P&Ls are working on a proposal, they have to sort through which will take a profit or margin hit to make the overall pricing work for the client.

Jon: Some interesting conflicts come up with companies in the technology sector. One unit might see another company as a strategic partner, where a different unit sees it