Many years ago, I encountered a particularly tricky management situation. Two excellent organizations in the company, Customer Support and Sales Engineering, went to war with each other. The Sales Engineers escalated a series of blistering complaints arguing that the Customer Support team did not respond with urgency, refused to fix issues in the product, and generally inhibited sales and customer satisfaction. Meanwhile, the Customer Support group claimed that the sales engineers submitted bugs without qualification, did not listen to valid suggested fixes, and were alarmists who assigned every issue the top priority.
Beyond the actual complaints, the teams genuinely did not like each other. To make matters worse, these groups had to work together constantly in order for the company to function. Both teams boasted superb personnel and outstanding managers, so there was nobody to fire or demote. I could not figure out what to do.
During this time, I miraculously happened to watch the motion picture classic Freaky Friday starring the underrated Barbara Harris and the incomparable Jodie Foster — note there is also a high quality remake starring Jamie Lee Curtis and the troubled, but talented Lindsey Lohan. In the film, mother and daughter grow completely frustrated with each other’s lack of understanding and wish that they could switch places and they do:
Through the course of the movie, by being inside each other’s bodies both characters develop an excellent understanding of the challenges that the other faces. As a result, the two women become great friends once they switch back. After watching both the original and the remake, I knew that I had found the answer: I would employ a Freaky Friday management technique.
The very next day I informed the head of Sales Engineering and the head of Customer Support that they would be switching jobs. I explained that, like Jodie Foster and Barbara Harris, they would keep their minds, but get new bodies. Permanently. Their initial reactions were not unlike the remake:
However, after just one week walking in the other’s moccasins, both executives quickly diagnosed the core issues causing the conflict. They then swiftly acted to implement a simple set of processes that cleared up the combat and got the teams working harmoniously.
From that day to the day we sold the company, the sales engineering and support organizations worked better together than any other major groups in the company – all thanks to Freaky Friday, perhaps the most insightful management training film ever made.
Ben Horowitz is a co-founder and general partner at the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. Prior to Andreessen Horowitz, Ben was a co-founder and CEO of Opsware (formerly Loudcloud), which was acquired by HP in 2007 for $1.6 billion. Before HP and Opsware, Ben also held executive positions at AOL and Netscape.