Interdepartmental battles are a common occurrence in many restaurants, but they don’t have to be. This month we are going to focus on solving problems and today we are going to try to eliminate interdepartmental battles.
SYSTEMIC OR INDIVIDUALISTIC
Your first step in solving your bouts problem is determining if it is system related or if it is a personal issue between just a few individuals. If the issue appears to be
one department’s strong dislike of another department it’s systemic and we will work on that part. If Sandra and Marcus continue to scream at each other which sometimes causes others to start joining the fight, this is likely an individual. One other dispute is when a department battles one or two individuals. This is typically an individual issue and is related to ego, philosophical, or performance issues.
Before we look deeper, it’s important to remember that these issues regardless of whether they are systemic or individualistic tend to get solved slowly. The only exception is when you just terminate the problem employees, however that can create other organizational health issues with trust and employee relations and should not be your first option. In the end, expect this process to see serious results become apparent over weeks not days, with minor improvements in the short term.
Determine and Address the Problem
If you believe the interdepartmental battles are systemic as opposed to individual related why do you believe the problem exists? Is it being lead by key individuals or managers in those department, some lower level employees, or does it exist across the board? Start determining why employees have a hatred toward another department.
Start by looking at process issues. Is the point of sale causing disputes over drinks or food items rang in incorrectly? Is it a point of sale issue or a training issue? If it is determined to be an issue with a system or process, get input from both departments and work out a solution that is agreeable to both parties. If the point of sale system is unable to handle the volume or specificity of your restaurant, upgrade it or replace it or continue to have interdepartmental battles occurring frequently. If it’s training related get everyone up to speed, informed, and educated.
Perhaps it’s a dispute over philosophies. The chef’s put in a great deal of work to make great tasting entrees and get upset when customers modify them. The server gets upset because the modifications are reasonable and doesn’t want to say ‘No’ to his customer. Whichever side of that dispute you are on, you need to set a rule, explain it to everyone and hold it, without exception, even when inconvenient. Read up on our posts regarding organizational health to dig deeper into implementation and determining what is right for your company.
If the charge is being lead by one or a few key employees, your issue may be ego related. Certain individuals may wish to exert their authority in order to justify themselves or show dominance over someone else as to elevate themselves. This is an ego issue and needs to be handled with a thought out action plan but sternness to the employee in private. If their is favoritism where certain tickets are getting bumped ahead of others because of who rang them in, this is a very serious issue and should be eliminated immediately with stern discipline. This is a sure way to severely anger employees and guests quickly.
Once the ego issue is determined, address the issue with the employee or employees and find out why they feel the way they do about another department. Listen to their dialogue, the issue may turn out to be a process or a philosophical issue. Once you hear out the problem employees, inform them of the way you expect the different departments to interact and behave with one another. Appeal to their ego and use it for good. Let them know they are looked up to by other employees and enlist them to help lead the cause. If they do start helping, make sure to recognize their assistance frequently.
Sometimes the hatred is on a personal level. Maybe there is an argument over relationship issues. Perhaps there was a minor issue at work that escalated and turned into a heated exchange. Perhaps there are differing political or otherwise personal views that are playing into the dispute. Whatever these are these have to be addressed and eliminated or unheard from. You aren’t always going to get along with everyone you work with, but you still need to work with them, so solving individual-related disputes quickly is important. Eliminating personal disagreements before they become systemic rifts will create better organizational health and save you hours of problem solving time in the future. Talk with any employees involved within the dispute and let them know that what happens outside of work is not your business until it affects their work. Let them know that their personal issues are unable to affect their employment or discipline will result. Let them know that their disputes have affected and brought down productivity and morale of other employees in the past and will not be tolerated in the future.
If attitudes improve and employees are able to eliminate personal disputes, recognize their efforts appropriately and often. If the individual does not cooperate and personal issues continue to become departmental issues, disciplinary actions up to and including eventual termination may be necessary.
Occasionally you will come across an issue where it is one or two employees against a department and visa-versa. This is typically one of three issues: ego based, philosophically based, or performance based. In cases where it is performance-based it is usually related to POS ringing systems or timing. Dig deep to find out where the problem lies. Is a server ringing items in incorrectly or incomplete and then asking for modifications or do overs later? Is there a kitchen staff member that is unable to keep up the pace of a busy kitchen allowing ticket-times to fall behind? Is there a server or bartender who is overwhelmed and either forgets to ring things in or is unable run food or make drinks? These employees need to be retrained even if they are veterans. You need to explain to them the minimum requirements of their job and hold your standard. This can be a very uncomfortable process but needs to be done. It’s important to explain the performance issues clearly, explain the affect they are having on their coworkers, and explain the steps you need them to take to improve their performance. If they are unable to improve, you need to put them on less busy shifts where they are able to handle the workload or if you can’t trust the employee you may need to replace them based on performance issues. I will have a post later this month on how to go about addressing an employee that tries hard but still cannot meet performance standards.
Once you have directly addressed the interdepartmental battle issue that is occurring, there are additional tactics you can take to reduce or eliminate future issues.
One way to help eliminate interdepartmental issues is to encourage cross utilization of employees. Or, in other words, have employees work in multiple departments. Having employees work in other departments when possible is a great way to eliminate interdepartmental issues. It’s hard to fight against yourself. If you can’t have employees frequently working in different areas, at least have them shadow or train in another area. The perspective they gain will help them be more understanding when they realize what the other person goes through. Additionally, it will help to explain why systems and processes are set up the way they are. If possible, make training in another department for a few days part of the training process. It will go a long when towards building organizational health and understanding and will help to eliminate interdepartmental battles.
Another way to eliminate disputes between departments is to do team building activities. I know this immediately sends shivers down to your core, but they need not be like you are imagining. I’m not talking the human knot or trust fall, but if you think that will work for your crew, go for it. I instead would suggest a problem solving activity not directly related to the restaurant but that focuses on the elements you are looking to improve.
For instance, one of the activities that I have found success with is an egg drop test. Break everyone into groups of 4-6 making sure to break up departments between groups. Give each group a pre-arranged box of supplies. I typically use tape and a bunch of items from around the restaurant like straws, a garbage bag, to-go boxes etc. If you want you can have them seek out supplies as well. Once they have their kit, have them prepare a device or apparatus that allows an egg to be dropped from ceiling height without breaking. Have them assemble the apparatus and then give a sales presentation as if they were selling the device to the other groups. Additionally, have them give written instructions on how to place the egg in the device, and how to drop it. Have everyone in the group give their input on each part. Have each group present the apparatuses (apparati?) to the rest of the employees complete with the sales pitch. Then put the egg in the apparatus using only the instructions you have and drop it from the ceiling. Some may break, some may not, but it’s fun to watch them fall.
This is a good activity because it’s fairly enjoyable and it doesn’t intrude on personal space nor cause harassment issues. It’s helpful because it requires everyone to work together and brings in production activities, training activities from the eyes of a trainer, and sales and emotional skills. Having everyone see and be involved with these parts helps them connect better. It also gives a more personal interaction than just the day to day grind and minimal communication between departments.
There are a lot of different issues that may lead to interdepartmental battles. It’s important that you take a step back and look at the pieces involved. You will need to determine if the issue is related to an individual or a process and then address that issue directly. More than one issue may be occurring and each has it’s own method for handling it. If you need help, contact us. Once you have addressed the larger interdepartmental battles, you can start to prevent future issues and work towards optimal organizational health.