Breaking Down the Walls

Chuck-WenzlerI was watching television the other day and saw a commercial for an online game called “Game of War.” I am not a player of these types of games, but it seemed to me that the goal was to capture other kingdoms and build walls to keep your opponents out. I can only imagine that the one with the largest kingdom wins.

 The more I thought about it, the premise of “Game of War” reminded me about life inside some automobile dealerships. Each department being its own little (or large) Kingdom, building walls around itself to keep the other kingdoms out and working on its own agenda. Each kingdom possessing its own king (manager) and warriors (employees). Instead of working towards peaceful coexistence, there is an ongoing battle as to who has the largest, most prosperous kingdom, pillaging and working to overthrow the other kingdoms. Just think how well off ALL the kingdoms would be if they were to knock down the walls, parked their egos at the gates, and worked together.

 Managers within the organization cannot live within their own kingdoms or departments. They must work at breaking down the walls that divide the kingdoms, and understand each kingdom’s needs and expectations to make sure that the entire organization benefits.

 Over the years, I’ve experienced many different methods to break down the walls. One is to have managers and key employees work in other departments. For example, let the service manager work with the parts manager for a week. Allow the service manager to experience the day-to-day activities of the parts department. Not only will there be a renewed appreciation for what it takes to manage a parts department, but it allows the service manager to become familiar with the parts department staff on a more personal level. During this time, the managers can discuss the needs and expectations of their respective departments, and then, working together, develop processes and procedures to meet them. Then have the managers reverse the roles, letting the parts manager spend time with the service manager, experiencing the day-to-day operations and what can be done to strengthen the partnership between the two.

 Another method I’ve worked with is having the departmental managers, or spheres of influence of a department, attend other departments’ meetings. One dealership in particular that I was affiliated with was having a very difficult time breaking down the walls, especially between the sales department and the service department. The service department had monthly service meetings, which is quite common, but they also had morning huddles on a daily basis. It was decided that new and used car managers were to attend a morning huddle once a week and they had to bring a sales person with them. They were also required to attend the monthly service meeting. Conversely, the service manager was required to attend one morning sales meeting per week with one of the service advisors. The service manager was also required to attend one of the weekly sales meetings per month. During the managers’ meetings, the Dealer required the sales managers and service manager to report out as to what they experienced.

 Over a short period of time, a new respect for the other departments was achieved and the walls began to come down. Ironically, the parts manager and collision manager voluntarily began to attend the sales and service meeting and at times, were even present at the morning huddles. Communication between the departments improved dramatically and during the managers’ meeting, they began to plan and discuss what they needed together as a team to take the dealership to the next level and what each department could do for the other.

 In one store I had the privilege of sitting in on an all-store meeting during a dealership visit. The General Manager utilized a different ice breaker exercise to start each meeting. The ice breaker I witnessed was one the general manager said that he liked to use when there were a number of new people in the meeting. He had everyone write their names on a piece of paper along with their position and 3 things about themselves, one of which was a lie. The pieces of paper were then made into paper airplanes and launched. Everyone had to pick up a plane (not their own) and introduce the person who made the plane and try to guess which of the three items was a lie. Now, this is not a new icebreaker, but the manager said that the team liked doing it with new members to the group. There are many icebreakers that can be used; the key is to gain the interaction and lighten the mood. Get the managers and team members from the different departments to talk and interact with each other.

 Another method that I always enjoyed was having off site activities such as picnics and ball games. At picnics, I would have organized team activities, softball, kick ball, volleyball, etc., pitting department against department. The caveat was that I would appoint managers to be the captains of the teams, but not their own. So the new car manager was the captain of the service team, the parts manager captained the collision center team, and so on. This allowed the managers an opportunity to get to spend time with the members of other departments. If we had multiple activities, the captains would rotate captaining a different team. Baseball and hockey games were always good for socializing with the team and strengthening the bond.

 So how many kingdoms exist within your organization? And what will your first steps be in breaking down those walls that were built when those kingdoms were created? What should your plan be moving forward and how will you communicate it? Get to know the people you work with. Understand what the other managers deal with on a daily basis, and identify their needs and expectations. ALL the departments need to work together as a management team.

Knock down the walls, communicate openly with the other kingdoms, join forces for success, and then enjoy the results. It’s not “Game of War.”


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