When I resigned my job as a general manager, the hardest part was leaving a great team of people who exceeded their goals and worked well together. But it was not always that way. When I took on the role, I quickly learned that the managers who reported to me were far from a cohesive group. I had many conversations with managers who would come into my office, close the door, and tell me all the issues they had with their peers. During our team meetings, I felt more like a referee than a leader. It was not fun.
After a particularly difficult team meeting where back-biting and steamrolling was at a maximum, I resolved to fix the situation. It took many months and plenty of mistakes and tries on my part to begin to make a dent in the frosty relationships within my team, but these four tips helped me to break through and eliminate the in-fighting:
- Reduce bilateral conversations – As I mentioned, I would often have my team members come into my office, close the door, and start railing on their peers. I had to put a stop to that. If someone approached me to complain about one of their colleagues, I would say, “Hold on. Let’s get them to join us in this discussion.” My managers quickly learned that transparency was the priority for me and they thought twice before trying to throw their peers under the bus.
- Eliminate conflicting goals – Many of the performance goals established in the group worked to create competition among the division’s team. The goals we worked toward pitted one unit against the others and it essentially rewarded fractious relationships. Developing new goals that called for working together and provided reward for division-level performance helped to eliminate conflicts.
- Focus on team-building – A powerful model of high-performing teams is GRPI, a framework developed by Richard Beckhard which identifies goals, roles, processes and interpersonal skills as key to strong team performance. Interpersonal skills are, in fact, at the foundation of the model, and time spent on relationship-building among team members can reduce conflict. I made it my priority to provide opportunities for us to come together as a team, to learn about each other, to appreciate what each of us brought to the table. And it worked.
- Incentivize collaboration – After shutting down the back-stabbing, creating aligned goals, and spending time working on us as a team, I looked for opportunities to encourage my team to collaborate and come together. One way I did that was setting up a budget to allow team members to recognize others in the division who helped them in some way. It was a highlight of our monthly meetings to hear the most recent acknowledgments shared among our teams. It was exciting to see the joy on the faces of those called out for their extra effort, willingness to share resources, and dedication to a job well done.
It was not easy. At times we would make headway and then something would happen to spark new in-fighting. In the end, the manager team began working well together and, lo and behold, their respective teams began working well together. My guess is that their teams also began to treat customers in a way that was even more positive and supportive.
How have you addressed in-fighting on your team?
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For help in addressing tension and conflict on your team, contact Robyn at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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