You’ve worked hard and built a thriving business, and you’ve brought on several employees to help you grow the business because you can’t possibly do everything on your own. As you grow and add these employees, though, it’s inevitable that there will be personality clashes and disagreements between and among your employees…and the more folks you have working for you, the more potential there is for some of them to be at odds with each other.
Sometimes the solution may be transparently clear…one of them has got to go! But what if both are good employees…GREAT employees!…doing their jobs to the best of their abilities, but they just don’t personally get along? This can cause unexpected challenges in the workplace and call for creative solutions.
Mike Krzyzewski…Coach K”…said “Effective teamwork begins and ends with communication.” I’ve pretty much lost track of the times I’ve mentioned communication in these blogs…but it really is the most powerful tool you can wield in any type of relationship: romantic, friendship, or work.
The thing you can do as a business owner or “the boss” is to always encourage open communication. In the case of clashing employees, that may mean setting up a meeting between them. As much as the expression is overused these days, create a “safe space” where both parties can say what they mean…what is making them upset, what concerns do they have about the other one…these things can help you get to the root of whatever misunderstandings that exist. Make sure both parties understand that they need to act respectfully to the other and listen actively during this discussion.
Doing this can help to promote better empathy and understanding. It’s very possible that one person is offended by the actions of another without knowing underlying reasons that would cause them to give that person a little more slack…or perhaps even a helping hand. Once people make an effort to understand each other and where the other person is coming from, they can find common ground and shared goals, and in time they may develop a deeper cooperation and collaborative atmosphere.
Encourage Better Teamwork
One great way of encouraging more cohesion on your team is to provide opportunities for training and professional development. That might take the form of workshops on conflict resolution or communication skills…or it might be something a way to reinforce communication and teamwork like a job skills training day where the participants have to rely on each other as much as themselves in order to properly and efficiently get the job done.
No less a business genius than Henry Ford said, “If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.” If you can get the members of your team communicating better, you’ve made the first step toward getting them “moving forward together.”
Of course, there’s always the old fall back…of team building exercises where “fall backs”…or “trust falls”…may be part of the day. Team-building exercises can sometimes be looked at with cynicism, so it might be best to not call it that…and to make it more of a “fun outing” for the company. Whether it’s a company day of zip-line adventures, canoeing teams on a lake, or bowling, you can surely find something that helps your team members forget about work for a while and not focus on the fact that they’re being softly goaded into being a better team through fun leisure activities.
“We are free to choose our paths, but we can’t choose the consequences that come with them.” – Sean Covey
Encouraging good communication and fostering better teamwork are essential to getting beyond bruised relationships between your team members, but as “the boss” you need to remember that at some level, you must also establish clear expectations for behavior.
This comes down to a more private conversation you should have with each of the divisive parties in turn. Be clear with what it is about their behavior that you believe is causing a problem and what they can do or change in order to make it better. Without participation from both parties, you may not ever reach the desired resolution, however you should do your best to get buy-in from them both.
Then you need to watch the situation and the actions of the parties involved, while being able and willing to provide feedback when it’s needed. If one of them steps out of line, you need to be able to pull them aside…quietly, if possible…and let them know how they can do better.
But there also need to be boundaries. Both sides of the equation need to know that if you cross “this line” one too many times…or don’t improve behavior by this date…or if we lose that customer because of this conflict…there will be consequences. From disciplinary action to termination, the consequences need to be very clear and you need to follow through on them.
Call in Professional Help
“Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding.” – Albert Einstein
You tried everything above and it’s still not quite enough…maybe it’s time to bring in external help. This could also apply if you are just too busy to do all the above or if interpersonal relationship counseling just isn’t in your toolkit. For whatever reason, a professional might be the right answer.
“Business therapists” are a thing these days. Sometimes they work with the leaders of companies…people who just don’t have many peers in the company…sometimes they work with team members to facilitate a better working environment. Being an outsider…and one trained in human behavior, at that…a business psychologist can help to identify where the business’s pain and friction points are, then offer advice to leaders and team members on how to smooth out some of those areas.
While this may seem like an extreme strategy, if you have team members that you feel your company would suffer greatly to lose, having a behavioral expert come in to assess the situation and offer their help might save you a great deal of time and money.
As with so many things in life, a good resolution to this problem has to begin with clear and effective communication. Combine that with the other steps and you stand a much better change of creating a harmonious work environment, as well as a positive an productive workplace culture. That is something you should care about intensely…happy employees will work more efficiently—saving the company money—while giving a better image of the company to outsiders—all of whom are potential customers of yours!