Co-operation is when a husband reads a book when his wife’s favorite television serial is on or when the wife goes shopping when there’s a major sports event her husband wants to watch. There is a trade-off here, a compromise where both are okay with a sacrifice. If the family decides to avoid this sacrifice, they buy a second TV.
Like families, organizations too face situations that call for co-operation and compromise. They often end up avoiding the trade-off and end up with the equivalent of buying a second TV. The difference is that the cost of a new TV is in thousands, whereas setting up a system to avoid the sacrifices that accompany co-operation can run into crores of rupees.
In his book “Six Simple Rules: How to manage complexity without getting complicated,” Yves Morieux of Boston Consulting Group (BCG) looks at how lack of co-operation causes unhappiness in organizations, leading to loss of productivity. “Cooperation means using lesser resources, but we avoid it because it is difficult and causes strained relationships. It’s easier to just buy a second TV, even though it leads to disengagement,” he says.
A typical stand-off situation in a company is between the front office and back office. In a restaurant, it’s between the kitchen and the service staff. In manufacturing companies, it’s typically between sales and production. In media houses, it is usually between the advertising department, which believes the advertiser is a newspaper’s customer, and editorial, which believes the reader is the customer. From housing the two departments in two different parts of the city to creating a buffer department in between, newspapers go to great lengths to rein in this conflict.
Separating the two conflicting departments reduces interaction and is like buying two TVs. Creating middle departments is expensive and just adds to the power play within the organization, increasing complexity. Instead, companies need to increase interplay between departments and allow them to come to a compromise solution.
To illustrate this, Morieux’s book draws on an example from one of BCG’s clients, a leading hotel chain which had low occupancy rates, poor per-room revenues and low customer satisfaction scores. BCG found that the problem stemmed from rooms that were out of service due to maintenance issues. The housekeeping department was aware when a room had maintenance issues, but didn’t report it since their performance was measured in terms of cleaning the rooms quickly. Calling for repairs only slowed things down.
Meanwhile, the receptionists bore the brunt of the customer’s anger when the air conditioning was faulty or a faucet leaked. They were faced with the option of pacifying the customer by offering a discount or transferring them to another room. In fact, the hotel had established a practice of keeping a few rooms in reserve for such eventualities, which is like the second TV.
The hotel solved the problem by giving receptionists greater power over housekeeping and maintenance, so that customer problems could be solved without giving rooms away. Since the receptionists suffered the most from lack of cooperation, they were the ones chosen to bring about cooperation. Morieux calls such employees “integrators,” and says every organization has them. “You have to reinforce your integrators if you want to increase cooperation in your organization. You have to put people in situations where they have to address mutual performance requirements,” he says.
Cooperation means having to engage and negotiate with other people and as French author Jean-Paul Satre said, “hell is other people.” Companies that achieve this difficult goal will always be ahead of competitors who do not. Just as families who happily come together in the drawing room to watch TV are better off than those who have separate TVs in the bedrooms for each member.