When your key team members have conflict, the work environment can become toxic and the entire team can be affected. Here is a 6-step strategy for bringing valuable team members together, and handling conflicts.
Rebecca and John are smart, capable executives who are effective and talented in their respective functions.
They are both key to your team’s success—and they are constantly at each other’s throats.
It started with something minor, and it has escalated with every interaction and project. Now every team meeting is being undermined by their disagreements, and they are coming to you to plead their own cases and get their way.
You cannot imagine your organization being as effective without either one – but they are driving you crazy!
So far, you’ve stayed out of it. It is becoming evident, however, that your expectation that they will settle their differences is not going to happen. And it has come to your attention that it is creating a toxic environment for the whole team.
Although the names have been changed, I was the leader in a situation like this – and I failed at confronting this situation early on. I learned some real lessons through it all, and now help leaders deal with conflicts in their organizations.
Let’s face it: Conflict is a part of team dynamics. As long as humans work together, there will be disagreements. Knowing why people disagree, having a process to resolve conflicts in place, and knowing when to step in is the job of the leader.
There are lots of ways to tackle this, but the worst thing you can do is nothing. Nothing will get better until you step in.
Take Control of the Situation
1. Schedule a meeting. Give them the agenda ahead of time, and ensure that you three will not be interrupted. Set the tone of the meeting and lay out expectations:
– Share your vision, purpose and values. We often assume that our team shares our vision, purpose and value for the organization, without knowing that they do. Let them know respect—for each of them and for the entire team—is one of those values.
– Tell them they are valuable—that you cannot imagine the organization without their talents, but that you want to solve this issue between them because it is harming the team.
2. Find out what they want. Ask each of them to articulate what results they want from the meeting and what they want to happen afterwards.
3. Let each have their turn to speak. A great tool to use is the “talking stick,” made popular by Stephen Covey (The 8th Habit). The talking stick was used for centuries by Native American tribes. It designated who had the right to speak when matters of great concern came before the council. As long as a leader held the stick, only he could talk. Give each one a designated time to tell their side of the story, without interruption. At the end of each time period, ask the other person to paraphrase what they heard to ensure everyone is communicating.
4. Have them plan and commit. Ask them for a plan on how they can resolve their conflicts in the future. Ask each of them to commit to doing one thing to mend fences in the next week, based on what they heard the other one say.
5. Follow-up. Schedule (and keep) a follow-up meeting in two weeks to gauge progress. Tell them you want to see real progress, so you don’t have to solve it for them.
6. Say Thank You. Thank them again for their exceptional contribution to the organization and for their willingness to engage in solving this issue.
Take this opportunity as the leader to ensure your entire team understands your expectations, vision, expectations and values. The more you get buy-in on these, the less conflict you will have. Ensure you have a process where conflicts get aired early—before they become a problem. Although conflict is normal, managing it early and appropriately will go a long way to creating a high-performing and successful team.
Have you clarified your vision, expectations and values to your team? How have you handled conflict within your key team that has made a positive difference?
– Susan C. Foster is a Master Certified Coach for leaders, and believes everyone can become a great leader (www.susancfoster.com). She is the author of It’s Not Rocket Science: Leading, Inspiring, and Motivating Your Team To Be Their Best (CLICK HERE to get your copy).
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