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Another Manager's Problem?

How far should a manager's involvement extend into problems that are largely the responsibility of another department? Can you simply tend to your own business and expect the rest of the organization to do likewise?


Consider the situation of the manager who felt she was observing the beginnings of a feud between 2 groups of employees in the department that worked most closely with her own group. Her employees were not involved, at least not yet. Even as a supposedly unaffected manager, however, she felt her group would soon be involved if something were not done. If you find yourself in such a position, is there anything you can realistically do?


Your first inclination may be that the goings-on in the other department are none of your business until they affect your group. However, you cannot afford to observe strict territorial boundaries when a problem appears to be growing. To ensure the continued smooth operation of your own department, you have a primary interest in keeping an apparent feud from affecting your employees. As a manager, you also have a significant interest in helping the entire organization run as smoothly as possible by correcting a problem before it can grow larger and get out of hand.


Managers tend to concentrate most actively on vertical communication, up the chain of command with superiors and down the chain of command with employees. In many organizations, territorialism and respect for departmental boundaries often inhibit horizontal communication across departmental lines. This insufficient lateral communication among managers is unfortunate; a manager who is outside a department looking in can often see a situation more clearly and with less unintended bias than the manager who is operating inside the department on a daily basis.


You may need to talk with your employees about the apparent feud in the adjoining department. Advise them to avoid taking sides or mixing in the dispute, avoid repeating what they hear about the problem, check out all tales and rumors with you, and especially let you know of any problems they experience in working with the other department.


Talk with the manager of the other department from your position as part of the same management team. The other manager's reaction to your comments may even tell you if he or she is genuinely concerned with what is going on or is perhaps part of the problem in appearing to take sides or tending in some other way to favor one feuding group over the other. Approach this manager without yourself taking sides in the dispute. Convey your concern as to what you believe you see happening in the department. Be as specific as possible; for instance, report specific errors or complaints that seem owing to the presence of the feud.


Help the other manager examine likely causes of the conflict, in any way possible. Without being forceful or intruding into the other manager's territory, make yourself available to help solve the problem. You already have a legitimate rationale for your involvement: your own group will be affected if the situation does not change.


Consider bringing your immediate superior up-to-date on your observations. Do so tactfully and diplomatically, without direct criticism of the manager of the feuding employees. Do so preferably with the knowledge and agreement of the other manager; however, do not let the other manager's possible lack of agreement deter you from discussing the situation with the person to whom you-and possibly the other manager-report. All members of the management team should be working toward the same goals. Although each manager should have the opportunity to address his or her own problems, no single manager-in this case, you-should avoid addressing an apparent problem simply because it has not yet spread to your department.


This issue of The Health Care Manager provides the following article for your consideration:


* "Emergency Department Utilization by Insured Users: A Study of Motivating Factors" reports on a study undertaken to develop understanding of why many insured patients use emergency departments rather than more appropriate alternatives available for reducing the strain that such patients place on emergency services.


* "Your Workers May Be Contingent But Your Liability for Them Is Certain. Part III: Other Employment Issues" addresses a number of federal laws that create legal pitfalls that await the unsuspecting employer who chooses to utilize contingent workers to satisfy various staffing needs.


* "The Future of Retail Clinics in a Volatile Health Care Environment" addresses the growth in numbers of retail clinics nationwide and, through surveys of administrative and clinical leaders connected with retail clinics, offers some insight into the likely future of this particular mode of care delivery.


* The Case in Health Care Management, "When You Want Something Done Right," asks the reader to consider the problems associated with a certain "delegation" practice and suggest how this problem should have been approached.


* "Patients Are Not Always Rational: The Leadership Challenge to Improve Patient Satisfaction Scores" advances the need to recognize that patients and guests are not always rational in their expectations of medical services and are often likely to offer unreliable information in patient satisfaction surveys.


* "Consumer-Directed Health Plans: Are Medical and Health Savings Accounts Viable Options for Financing American Health Care?" endeavors to advance improved understanding of how consumer-directed health plans can help improve the use of health resources and reduce health care expenditures.


* "Hospital Chief Executive Officer Perspective on Professional Development Activities" reports on a study undertaken to examine hospital CEOs' perspectives concerning the importance and impact of various professional development activities and to determine CEO preferences for various professional development modalities.


* "Health Care Managers as Educational Evaluators and Accreditation Support Personnel" offers an overview of the traditional role of health care managers in the education of students and trainees and addresses their expanded role as evaluators of students in clinical settings.


* "Exploring Nurses' Perceptions of Organizational Factors of Collaborative Relationships" reports on a study undertaken to explore nurses' perceptions of the organizational factors that influence the development of collaborative relationships within health care teams.


* "See Your Ideas in Print: Write for a Professional Journal" provides encouragement and direction for managers and professionals who might consider writing for journal publication and updates previous information provided in an earlier article with changes in the submission and publication processes.