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Archive for the ‘Conflict’ Category

The Break Up

It often amazes me how things that happen at work can feel very much the same as home life, especially when they are going wrong. I sat with a colleague the other day and over a coffee she told me about some problems she had gone through with someone whom she worked with. I had a ‘this is just like..’ feeling.

My colleague told me that over a period of time she and this staffer had disagreed about the way things needed to be done for their client. As an Ad agency keeping client happy with the output is important, but sticking to within the client budget even more so.

She felt that her colleague was going off in a direction that the client business couldn’t afford and wasn’t really in the original remit. She didn’t think the ideas were bad per se just not what had been agreed. As she was the contact for the client it was up to her to deliver and she was getting pressure as a result.
Each conversation they had became tougher and she noticed that they were changing in a drastic way. Their conversations became more formal and her colleagues tone was more clipped. It began to sound as if everything her colleague said had been rehearsed and even as if someone else had told her what she should be saying.
Eventually she suggested that they sit down and make it clear to each other how they needed to work and what they would each do on the contract. Her colleague stormed out. She phoned her and tried to reconcile but got nowhere. Two days later her colleague left to start a new role and week later approached the client to come with her.

Does some of that sound familiar? Ever been through a relationship breakup? Now does it sound familiar?

When people break up with work they tend to act the same way that they do in a break-up at home.
To justify the eventual leaving, staff will begin to make work appear ‘bad’. Everything that happens can get blown up out of all proportion, everything their manager does or colleagues do will be wrong. If they are being told by friends that they ‘need to leave’ then it can start to sound like they are being coached or someone else is talking. Situations appear to be more formal, and often result in very obvious annoyance or upset. When they finally leave people will say ‘she hated it here no wonder she went’.

When you witness a colleague behaving badly towards work on an increasing basis, what you may be seeing is the result of the decision already made. They know that they want to leave, but they haven’t finalised the decision, so the behaviour is fuel to justify the ending.

If you are a manager of someone who is acting this way its a time for the C’s. Firstly its a time to be cautious. Handle it wrongly and you become the problem. And if you become the problem then you can also be the reason cited for their leaving and you don’t want that. So don’t burst out with ‘whats wrong with you!’
So Its the time for personal calm and its the time for checking (anything else going on in their life? Someone will know, anything specific happened? Someone will know that too).

You cant afford to leave it going on if it is affecting your workplace and your other staff and some people can drag the scenario out for a long time. So when you’ve watched a while to be sure something is really wrong, checked what you need to check, then its the time for a chat. In your most supportive way, with no accusations and no allegations, you check in with them to see whats going on and whether something is wrong and whether there is something that you can help with as their manager.

If they make it clear that they don’t like it at work and hate the job/people/work/company (take your pick) then a good manager will help that person to ‘get off the bus’. But don’t suggest that they leave (you go back to being the problem again), suggest that you can ‘find someone who may be able to help them get clear on what they do want to do and see where that takes them, but in the meantime if they have a problem could they just air it with you?’.

So cautious, calm, check and a chat.
Wouldn’t every break up be easy if thats the way it went?

Shifting the team viewfinder

I sometimes wonder if we are living in the 21st century. Not with what we see on the Tv or in the news, but when I see some of the issues that arise in the workplace.

I’m talking about inter-team strife.

Does it happen in your business? Do you have a few teams that should work hand in hand but don’t? Do you have examples of silo’s that do more than think differently, they work against each other?

A few years ago I was running a change programme that involved the down-sizing of two teams who worked side by side for different managers. One team handled customer problems and the other handled customer bills. Often the problems that the customer team faced from customers was the bills. Often the problem that the billing team faced was with customers not paying the bill. You would think that with such an overlap of issues the teams would find some benefit in working together wouldn’t you? Their team areas were a mere ten feet apart yet the gulf often felt like the great wall of china!

To improve the situation we decided that the downsizing project would also involve the moving of some of the better team-members between the two teams. The idea was that with better understanding of what each team did, we would reduce the friction and improve the cross silo working. When the appointments were announced I was working close by the team-space and I witnessed one of the candidates nominated to move teams proclaiming that they would ‘soon sort out those —— next door!’ I wondered what we had let ourselves in for. Had we just moved the battlegrounds?

A month later I witnessed the same person talking in their new team. They were complaining about the team next door! A complete shift in perspective in four weeks!

I realised then how tribal people still were and began to notice similar behaviour in many places that I worked. Teams often have practices that amount to rituals. These rituals make a unique team and differentiate them from other teams in the organisation. Some teams have different uniforms from others. Most teams have different locations that are close to tribal lands (and you know when you have entered and you aren’t one of the tribe don’t you!). Teams meet and discuss issues and often these are with the team whose function adjoins them. These issues are often ‘stepping on our turf’ by doing our role instead of what we perceive as theirs. And sometimes the tribal leader joins in!

Sound familiar? So what do you do about it?

A lot of people try and deal with team friction through rules or discipline or by trying to create empathy between people. This might work to a point, but my view is that if they are behaving tribally you’ve got to think tribally in your solutions.

One of my favoured approaches when dealing with team friction is best explained through looking at the history of the land of my birth. Everyone knows that the Scot’s tribes are called clans, but not everyone knows that smaller clans were called Septs. The Septs swore allegiance to a bigger Clan and in times of war they rallied to the standard of that clan and stood side by side with other Septs and faced a common enemy. Then they went home and went back to fighting with the Septs that they had stood shoulder to shoulder with!

If you’ve got two tribes who are in conflict, one of your problems is that they see each other as the enemy. When they see another tribe as the enemy everything they do is seen in a bad light, everything they do is wrong, everything they do is something to be suspicious of. Lets face it history has taught them that’s the truth and their viewfinder is turned that direction and focused that way.

If you want to change the situation you’ve got to move the focus of the viewfinder. That focus is a ‘common enemy’ (just like the Scottish Septs). I look for a focus outside of the organisation such as a competitor. Most organisations have someone that they compare themselves with, competition for their market share, someone looking to sell to the same customers, someone whose product is too similar etc. The focus has to be real and something that everyone in the organisation knows about. It’s likely to be unwritten, but soon get told when you join. Its unlikely to be part of your vision or mission, but it will be part of your organisational chatter!

By getting each team to focus outside of the organisation at someone else that they need to win against you have a starting point for the team’s to see that there is something to value in each other. Something that means they need to work with the other team. Once a team starts to value another team then you have the chance for the other steps in moving from team conflict to team alignment.

Don’t fight the tribes! Just shift their focus and watch as the alliance begins to form and conflict begins to diminish.

Are you right or are you winning?

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you were convinced that you were right and that the person you were debating with was wrong? Or that someone else’s behaviour was ‘out of order’ and that it up was up to them to ‘apologise’ or ‘make the first move’?

Perhaps you’ve had that situation with someone who worked for you? Or perhaps you’ve been the one on the other side of the argument?

Its really easy to get stuck sometimes, and its happened to most of us at some time or other. Sometimes as a manger you will see the situation occurring between two peers or between of your staff. But what do you do about it if you are the boss or the peer?

This came up in a conversation with a client of mine recently. He was in a situation where he had been given some ‘feedback’ by his manager. Except it wasn’t really feedback. It was a long list of what the manager thought they should and shouldn’t be doing and why the manager thought it was so. In feedback terms this is a ‘slam dunk’ and when we teach feedback to managers we find that a large amount of what is called feedback is really a ‘slam dunk’ (you know the type of feedback; negative and not designed to help someone improve performance; just a way of letting someone know how wrong they were. And if at this point you are thinking, ‘that’s the feedback we do in our business’ then contact my coaching colleagues at before it causes more problems than it already is!).

My client was rather unhappy about this and it had caused a number of sleepless nights and emotional outpourings with trusted friends. In fact it became obvious that my client was one step away from looking for a a new role, anywhere where his boss wasn’t. This, buy the way is the regular result of poor feedback skills. De-motivation!

But the actual feedback had happened a few weeks previously. So I asked why my client hadn’t raised this with his boss and given them some feedback about that conversation, explaining how it had left them feeling and how disempowering so much of it had been. The answer was ‘ why should I?’ and ‘its not up to me to make my boss better at their job!’

At this point I am sure that you have been here before, haven’t you? Whether you were angry at the boss, or hurt or worried about the way they had spoken to you I am sure we’ve all been somewhere like this before. So what do you do?

I know that some of you will have heard me use this maxim before, so it will be no surprise that I told him that one of my favourites is’ Am I right, or am I winning?’

We used this to talk through who was suffering most as a result of ‘the why should I?’ approach, and whether it was his role to help his boss be ‘better at his job’ or not. The answer is probably obvious to you, right?
Who was having the sleepless nights? Who was replaying the scene time and again in conversations with himself (we all do that, don’t we?) And with trusted colleagues? Who was using all that energy and building up the stress? Certainly not their boss!
In a perfect world, everyone would recognise when they have not been at their best, bosses included, and they would do the ‘right thing’. But waiting for that to happen and wasting energy, time, emotion on it is certainly not going to keep you ‘winning’. The answer is to become skilled at giving feedback to the person you need to. Proper non emotive feedback (not a slam dunk)

But lets track back to a question I posed earlier. What do you do if you are the boss and you see it happening between two peers or two of your team?

Lets start with what not to do.

1) Don’t make a judgement. Don’t tell one of them they are right and the other is wrong. You know where that will lead don’t you? No? Who has become the problem now?

2) Don’t ‘bang their heads together and tell them to sort it out or you will!’ either. You know what kind of damage that will cause to your reputation as a manager don’t you? Positional power as a problem solver between people? Good move? (anyone that thinks yes at this point should call me now!)

When I run conflict resolutions, one part of the process is to get people to look at the problem from the other persons point of view. You might want to try that. It takes every ounce of your coaching skills (and if it this point you are getting worried then you do need to go to and talk about their coaching culture programme!), but as a boss or as a peer all you are doing is facilitating enough thinking between two people to get them to talk the problem through for themselves (perhaps with someone like me to make it work well between them if its not a good role for you).

You can of course sit them down (individually), tell them that you know something is not right between the two of them and ask if they want to talk about it. If you can get them to unload with you it might help (especially if you don’t try & solve the problem; see the reasons above!), and then when the moment is right you can ask, ‘what are you going to do about it’.

If you get all the reasons that its not up to them you might want to ask your version of ‘Are you right or are you winning?’.