One of the most difficult performance issues with which managers commonly struggle is conflicts between and among team members. These conflicts emerge from different sources. Sometimes people just don’t like each other. Other times there are real gripes, personal and professional.
You can make these conflicts a whole lot less likely to emerge by being the kind of boss who keeps every employee focused on getting work done.
You cannot referee every argument. But you can make these conflicts a whole lot less likely to emerge by being the kind of boss who keeps every employee focused on getting work done. If you keep your employees busy with work, they have less time to have conflicts with each other. When you are coaching employees every day, spelling out expectations, and tracking performance every step of the way, employees are less likely to worry about each other and more likely to worry about getting their own work done. And the more focused everyone is on the work they have in common, the more likely they are to cooperate. When conflicts do happen, if you are all over the details, you will know what’s in character and out of character for each person, what rings true and what doesn’t. You will be in a better position to evaluate and make appropriate decisions.
If you have an unusual number of conflicts among your employees, it’s critical that you figure out why that is. Most likely, you are part of the problem. If you are not spelling out expectations and tracking performance, employees blame each other for problems that occur and resent each other because there is no real accountability. The stronger the hand you take, the more likely you will be to squeeze out the airspace for a lot of these conflicts. But maybe it’s not you. It could be that there is something about the way your team functions that is causing problems. Is there a high level of interdependence, where team members have to rely on each other inordinately? Are there standard operating procedures in place to ensure that this interdependence flows smoothly? Maybe you can eliminate or improve aspects of your business process to reduce unnecessary conflict.
Of course, sometimes people just don’t like each other. This is one of the most common and vexing challenges managers face. Negative social dynamics at work cause stress, diminish cooperation, and have a measurable impact on productivity, quality, morale and turnover.
At the individual level, the least likeable characters in any workplace are those who complain, blame others, and entangle coworkers in their personal issues. If you can help those individuals replace their negative behaviors with good communication habits, you will eliminate the most common sources of interpersonal conflict.
Not all attitude problems in the workplace are clearly attributable to any one person. Some derive from social dynamics.
If certain employees often clash with each other, then do what you can to keep them apart, working in different areas or on different shifts. If some employees are prone to conflicts, discuss this issue in your regular coaching dialogue with those individuals. Before there is another conflict, remind them how to avoid conflict and interact in positive ways with others. Tell them what to say and how to say it so that they can engage in conflict-free interactions, if necessary.
However, not all attitude problems in the workplace are clearly attributable to any one person. Some derive from social dynamics. Sometimes team conflict is just a clash between two particular individuals. Other times it’s more complex. Sometimes everybody is implicated somehow or another.
If there is a high level of interpersonal conflict on your team, ask yourself, “Why do my direct reports have enough time on their hands at work to focus on interpersonal conflicts with each other?”
Again, this level of conflict is almost always indicative of undermanagement. Interpersonal conflict usually only has room to flower in a relative leadership vacuum. If you don’t have clear, regularly enforced operating procedures, you leave room for clashes of style and preference. If you don’t have good performance management in place, there will be more rivalry for attention, resources, recognition, and reward. If you are not spelling out expectations and tracking performance, employees blame each other for problems.
If you get back to practicing the fundamentals with discipline, you will suck the oxygen right out of most conflicts. Make sure every individual is highly focused every day on getting lots of work done very well, very fast. Remind everybody repeatedly about the broad performance standards – including the standards for good professional communication, cooperation, and mutual support.