This is probably the one problem that has been common across EVERY leader I’ve ever worked with.
Your team members just don’t get along with each other.
The symptoms might look different. It might be subtle underhanded comments in meetings, maybe it’s the side eye glare you catch, the lack of volunteering to help each other, the speed at which they will criticize each other’s performance… or it might be full on blow outs in meetings, heated arguments, gossiping and thick tension in the workplace.
And EVERY leader I’ve ever worked with has this initial knee jerk approach to dealing with these conflicts:
“Well… I really hope it just blows over”
NO. This will NOT just blow over. It might SEEM to blow over… but it’s just smoldering in the background waiting for the next spark to blow it up again.
It’s not good for a lot of reasons, some obvious, some not so much so. But the one I will comment on is the cold hearted one: It is absolutely 100% negatively affecting your team’s results.
Even if you don’t think it is, it is. There is energy, time and emotional labour being spent on these conflicts, rather than the actual work the team is supposed to be focused on.
I am begging you, please do NOT ignore these conflicts, no matter how subtle or innocuous you think they are. They are absolutely slowing your team down, along with negatively impacting your team member’s mental and emotional health.
It will take time to fix, but stick with it. It will be worth it on so many levels, I promise.
Here are 4 ways to start addressing this today:
1. Clarity, Clarity, Clarity
If you do NOTHING else on this list, do this one. Make the expectations you have on how team members behave with each other, and how they deal with any conflicts, 100% clear and unambiguous. No exceptions. No letting anything slide. And every single time someone does not meet those expectations, you have a grown up conversation to point out where they did not meet the expectation, hear their interpretation of the situation, and work together on a way for them to approach it differently next time.
(Side Note: this is NOT being an a$$hole boss. An a$$hole boss THINKS these things behind each team members back but doesn’t actually have a conversation with them - and yes we’re all guilty of this at one point or another!)
2. BE the Change You Want to See
If you don’t want your team to gossip, you do NOT ever get to gossip, even if it’s tempting. If your expectation is that people will focus an argument on ideas and behaviours and never on the person, then you NEVER get to do that either, whether you’re having a bad day or not.
The best thing you can do to start impacting the way the team deals with each other is by acting the way you want them to act. This is by far the hardest one on this list but SO impactful.
3. NO Triangle Feedback. Ever.
Triangle feedback is the WORST. This is where Person 1 tells you ‘feedback’ about Person 2 (feedback in this case is another word for shitty gossip). You go to Person 2 and tell them about Person 1’s feedback. Person 2 feels under attack and start down a paranoid rabbit hole of ‘what else are people saying about me behind my back’. Person 1 feels ‘job done’ and then get frustrated when it all happens again.
No. No. Nope.
When Person 1 tells you ‘feedback’ about Person 2, your job in that moment is to help Person 1 feel comfortable and confident in approaching Person 2 on their own. Yes there are extreme cases where you may need to have a meeting with all three of you, but there is almost NEVER a time to say ‘So someone told me something about you…’ Nope. No.
4. Create The Environment for Friendships
Ok sounds super cheesy but there is a lot of research that shows how important it is to have strong relationships between team members that are not directly related to the day to day work. AKA having a friend at work.
When your team members are having a chat about the latest HBO show about dragons, please let it happen. This is actually not wasted time or energy. This is building a rapport so that WHEN there is an issue between then, there’s a great comfort level with having a conversation about it rather than letting it fester. And yes of course if people are missing deadlines or deliverables, you talk to them about THAT, and possibly one of the solutions is less time chatting and more time working, but the issue you actually have is with missing deadlines, not with having great relationships with their colleagues.
Foster these relationships, they will go a loooooong way to making your job easier… and more fun.
This list of actions won’t solve everything tomorrow, it will take investment and time and work. But it’s absolutely a great start to getting the dynamic right in your team to hit your big goals.
Agree? Disagree? Let me know what you think!