Dear DeeDee: Can't we all just get along?
Hi, I’m DeeDee Smartt Lynch, and over my years of working with teams, I have extended the invitation for clients to e-mail me if they run in to situations that stump them. Realizing that some of those exchanges might be useful more broadly, we have started this forum for addressing team-related issues. As a nod to the popularity of the "Agony Aunt" columns in the U.K., we are following that format: I will be your "Team Agony Adviser," here to help you with your team troubles. To contact me, just e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
I'm the HR director of a 200-employee company. There are two divisions, both headed by very strong-minded and capable leaders.
But the problem is that they constantly fight with each other. As a result, employees on the two teams are following the leads of their bosses and now fight with each other as well. This is affecting morale and hurting productivity. What can I do about these two division heads?
— Between a rock and a hard place
Sadly, the circumstances you describe are not unique. We see this in many organizations. What we find to be incredibly effective in this situation is to use the Belbin Team Roles methodology, starting specifically with the two polarizing individuals. Through the individual assessment Belbin Report and the Working Relationship Report, we are able to initiate a productive and non-defensive dialogue between the two leaders.
Belbin will enable them to better understand how they each approach getting work done, as well as how they handle business relationships, in different ways. Once they see the data from their Belbin Report, they can then understand why they clash as well as understand the impact their behavior is having on their teams — and on the organization as a whole.
In using the Belbin Reports, we are able to objectively talk about their behavior, both in how they perceive themselves, and through the way others perceive them. Through the Belbin Report, and through a “pair session,” we use the data a guide for a non-confrontational conversation with both of the polarizing managers.
This then leads to the polarizing managers understanding each other better, and then they are able to set ground rules around their interactions. Belbin gives them a way to talk to each other that helps them with how they deal with conflict and decision-making.
For example, I worked with one polarized pair who, before Belbin, were not only always in conflict, but were comfortable and happy being in conflict, pretty much unaware of the damage it was doing to their teams.
After going through a Belbin pair session, the two managers came up with a plan where they would get together prior to team meetings in order to iron out potential conflicts so that they wouldn't visit those conflicts on their teams.
In these situations, we have found that polarized managers end up having a new-found respect for the contribution the other one brings to the team, replacing a lack of understanding — which usually led to hostility.
And once those polarized were able to overcome their problems, they usually insisted on bringing Belbin to the rest of the members of their teams. And their own transformation was then replicated throughout their teams, which lead to measurable improvement for the organization.
What kind of agony do you face at your organization? Share your problem with your Team Agony Adviser, DeeDee Smartt Lynch at email@example.com.