Solution Saturday: Teammates Hate Each Other!
Warning: I’m violating my self-imposed 300 word limit. At 787 words, this is the longest article I have ever posted on Leadership Freak.
I’m less than a month into a new leadership role, in a new organization. I am facing a new problem that I haven’t faced before.
What do you do when two senior members of your team hate each other?
The leaders each have a team. Under previous leadership, the teams were encouraged to work separately, even on shared issues.
The teams are loyal to their ‘leaders’, and its like divorcing parents who have put their children in the middle.
One of the leaders applied for my new position. He believes one of the reasons he didn’t get the job is because the other leader shared their feelings about him. There are many hurt feelings.
My goal is to bring everyone together.
They both came to me separately to share their feelings towards the other. Luckily, this was after I laid out my expectations for professional behavior, preventing them from going too far.
During an all staff meeting, I explained my vision of a more unified team. After the meeting, many of the team members came to me and told me that they really want greater unity, but they’re afraid that their leaders won’t let it happen.
Passionate to build the circle
Congratulations on earning your new position. Ongoing animosity between these leaders only demonstrates that the person who didn’t get the job is unqualified to lead the team.
The people who hired you must see something in you that makes you qualified to make this situation work. The fact that they didn’t tell you, indicates you have your hands full.
I’m sure Leadership Freak readers will offer several interesting options for moving forward. I’m going to suggest a coaching approach.
Coaching toward greater unity:
Have one-on-ones with several members of the team, not just the two haters. The goal of these meetings is to identify and clarify how to move toward your vision of building and strengthening the circle. What follows are some suggestions to guide your one-on-ones.
Step #1. Clarify the win. You might say, “I’ve set a vision for a unified team. What does that look like to you?” Write down their responses without adding comments. Just smile and say, “Thank you. What else?”
Step #2. Responding to resistance. They might begin explaining why unity can’t be achieved. Resist the urge to answer their concerns. Write them down. Encourage the naysayers. “Tell me more.” They need to feel heard.
Step #3. Focus on the win. “I see what makes this a challenge, but if we could move toward greater unity, what would that look like?” Record their responses. (You may not need this step, if step #1 is satisfactory.)
Step #4. Identify behaviors. Ask, “What imperfect behaviors might move us toward our vision?” (I like to use “imperfect behaviors,” but that might not feel comfortable to you.)
Generate a list of three or four imperfect behaviors.
It’s likely they will say, “I don’t know.” Affirm their talent and intelligence.
Keep circling the topic.
- “But if you did know…?”
- What suggestions would you offer someone else?
- What suggestions might someone you admire offer?
Resist the temptation to offer your solutions. You need them to own this process.
Step #5. Choose one imperfect behavior. “Which option would you like to try this week?” Explore when and how they might move the team toward greater unity.
Step #6. Set the next meeting. Say, “Unity is a priority to me. When can we meet next week to continue this discussion?” (Set an appropriate time interval.)
Tell them you’ll ask five questions at your next one-on-one.
- What did you try?
- How did it work?
- What did you learn?
- What behaviors should we stop? (Look for behaviors that weaken the circle.)
- What would you like to try this week to strengthen the circle?
Seven general suggestions:
- Building a brighter future is better than fixing a broken past.
- Explore why unity is important for the team and the individuals on the team. Make it personal.
- Small steps forward are the only way to create positive momentum. Don’t worry that progress might be slow or the behaviors might seem insignificant.
- Publicly honor anyone who behaves in ways that strengthen the circle. Just go nuts when you see something positive happening.
- Remind team mates that some behaviors are self-defeating. “How is your resistance serving your best interests?”
- Work on inter-personal issues after the team has strengthened the circle.
- Begin with tenderness, but get tough on persistent resistance. After allowing time for adjustment, say, “This isn’t working…”
Bonus: Always define vision, problems, and solutions in behavioral terms.
What ideas do you have for ‘Passionate’ to build the circle?
Dan a subject worthy of extra words. This happened to me when I moved from CFO to CEO of our second largest business. Some people also assumed they were better qualified or deserved the job. A couple thoughts:
1. Find one or more of the new Team that can share your vision and who you can build a trusting relationship with. I call this walking to the Middle of the bridge a few times till someone comes out to meet you
2. After you have given a fair time for the others to try to behave and work together, Fire the worst offender. This is cold but in a dysfunctional group needed. You often have 90-120 days to do this and your boss will not object. And the rest of the Team will agree and work much better.
Brad James, The Business Zoo
Thanks Brad. I love the “walking to the middle of the bridge” metaphor. It’s one way to model the way.
Your second suggestion is all about getting tough. Leaders get the reputation of being a push-over if they don’t deal with blatant resistance. Glad you shared your insights.
One might try the “common ground” approach. A couple things I have used in similar situations include only having discussion regarding what IS working well. Discuss THINGS that have worked in the past. Discuss the POSITIVE HIGHLIGHTS of a project of a successful outcome.
A friend and former classmate of mine developed this theory and system known as “Appreciative Inquiry”. One might resource the concept and frame your own way of possibly utilizing some of it’s strengths. He developed this 4 D system that could serve as a road map to bringing out mutual strengths and constructive outcomes.
The negative stuff is out there already and there is no need to rehash it. It’s like holding on to something that is in the past while trying to move forward. It doesn’t work! Let it go and only look to the present and the future.
Positive, Constructive and Progressive thoughts and conversations should be the meal of the day and everyday.
Thanks Greg. Great insights. I couldn’t agree more. The past can’t be changed. Keep asking, “What do we want?” “How might we move toward what we want?” Glad you jumped in.
“…Blessed are the peacemakers..”
…but I didn’t say it would be simple or easy!
Thanks Ken. Easier said … 🙂 Have a great weekend.
Dan, I imagine it was tough to keep what you have to say to less than 1000 words. I feel you have gained so much respect from us readers that we don’t mind a longer post when needed! Thanks for the insight today!
Thanks you Tim. I deeply appreciate your affirmation. There’s a lot to explore on a topic like this one.
This is so interesting and helpful. Thank you for making the exception Dan and going long
I would really struggle with not offering help during the 1-on-1’s. What exactly do YOU say when someone says “why won’t you help me and offer suggestions? This feels like a gotcha or like I’m a rat in an experiment looking for the right thing to say that you want to hear.”
Thanks James. Yes! It is a struggle to not offer suggestions to others when coaching them. To be honest, offering suggestions is occasionally part of the process.
When some asks, “Why won’t you help me and offer suggestions,” tell them the truth.
I believe your answer is more important than mine. I don’t want to take responsibility for something you need to own. I believe in you.
A fundamental tenant of coaching is the coach does the work of coaching. The coachee does the real work.
It’s still tough. My fixer loves to jump in. 🙂
Thanks for bringing up such a relevant issue.
The other issue with this is ownership. If it is YOUR idea, there will always be less commitment to the solution than if this was THEIR idea. “Nobody ever washes a rental car.” If you push an idea out, they will generate pushback as a simple reflex.
I like the rental car metaphor. Thanks.
Incremental, long-term improvement.
SO many things can underlie the “hate” between the two leaders. And there is no simple solution.
Appreciate Inquiry is certainly one approach to put some considered thought and perspective into what is probably an emotionally-based situation. Some kind of counseling / coaching might work.
Another is to force things — putting ONLY those two people together to work on a shared problem and forcing them to address their differences. You might put ONLY the two of them into a Dual Survival kind of situation – where they have to rely on only each other to survive some problem. But there is no guarantee on any of the above. There are sometimes simply NO solution, other than replacement.
Some really skilled Confrontation might work.
Or some visioning: “It’s 2020 and our organization is working smoothly and efficiently with a great deal of teamwork and individual respect for each other. What did you two do to resolve your differences and help move us forward.” — do that first as an individual essay problem and then hold a meeting to discuss both people’s thoughts and perceptions.
But people are amazingly resistant to change. You might simply have to make the changes for the organization.
Remember that logical and unemotional approaches might work, but that the situation probably has some real undercurrents and emotions in operation.
Take a look at Immunity to Change as an approach to generating logical discussions and perspectives on the situation.
Good luck, too.
Thanks Dr. Scott. I’m so glad you added a more assertive approach. I wanted to set a very open framework for this post.
Perhaps one factor in choosing an approach is the skill set and temperament of the leader.
Thanks for sharing your insights.
Thanks for the post Dan. Just this week I experienced some “hate” between some of my team members. We are certainly not to the level that your was presented here, but in your answers I see some ideas that I can also use to help build unity and create a stronger team. Thanks!
Thanks Jay. So glad to be of service. I’m glad we’re on the journey together.
Dear Passionate – you are not alone. I agree with Dan, the people that hired you saw something great. You sound like a wonderful leader.
Dan – thank you for sharing “Passionate’s” story. I see from the comments above that we all struggle with this issue sometimes. You and your readers offered some very helpful advice.
Thanks Marianne. It’s great to read your affirmations both for “Passionate” and for the things that I’m writing. Thank you for jumping in.
Team leaders need to be reminded that the key word is “Team” and if they’re not focused or on board with the mission, the obstacle to that needs to be identified and worked through. It might be a simple misunderstanding (communication, communication, communication) but if it’s something larger and they can’t come to some type of reconciliation, as hard as it is, they might need to be let go. Negativity is contagious poison that helps no one and staff can smell it a mile away.
Thanks Mary. One this is certain. Negativity is contagious and bad is stronger than good. Ignoring the issue isn’t an option.
Great story. Incredible direction. Thank you.
Since some teams have lived in conflict for so long, how do you respond if the responses to your question for ideas of “imperfect behaviors to move forward” is answered with totally negative responses, or behaviors or actions that require nothing of them, but only change or the departure of their adversary?
Thanks Page. The response you mention is more common than people might expect. One way to deal with this is, “I see what you think others should do, what can you do?”
Don’t let them off the hook. If they persist in resistance after several attempts, take corrective action. But, by this time, it’s likely to end badly.
As Scott said:
> SO many things can underlie the “hate” between the two leaders
Understanding this is key. There’s always a reason.
The first question I’d ask is “what gets rewarded around here?”
Thanks Ben. Powerful question. You make me think about other questions like, “Who get’s honored?” “Who gets ahead?”
It seems like your question is about culture and is something the leadership team would do well to explore. 🙂
I can’t help but disagree a bit. We’re talking about a new leader of leaders. My disagreement is with the idea that Passionate would start out as a coach. If I were Passionate (and I have been in their position before) I’d have one conversation with the two combatants at the same time. I’d share the vision of success, including how each of them get promoted because of the success of the new, unified team. And I’d then make sure each understood we are going to work together or not at all. I’ve never seen a meeting like that where one person volunteered to leave. Each generally agrees to get along, as long as the other does something. Get those somethings written down and agree to work together to make sure the entire team is successful. Because they agreed to make it work, you’re committed to them and then your coaching has more meaning. Coaching once each has a common goal, will help each middle manager understand how their actions contribute to success or tension. Be quick to work to grow the harmony focusing on the vision of success rather than the vision of harmony. The team’s success will not surpass the success of the 3 leaders in charge. So focus all your energy on a commitment to work together or ask one to leave. Check out Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin.
Thanks Mike. I gave your comment a thumbs up because of my respect for you. Your approach is to start off tough and then become tender. I can see where leaders would appreciate this approach.
I’ll go back to the idea that one factor is the temperament of Passionate. Being inauthentic at a moment like this may back fire.
Thanks for adding a resources. Here’s a link for anyone who cares to check out, Team of Rivals.
BTW, I’m going to speak with Doris in March!
Great post, thanks for the insight!
As it happens, this kind of ‘quarreling siblings’ situation belongs to the development of team. It’s part of the cycle. In this case, there are two functional teams which are being merged to work as one. Just by looking at it, this will cause friction. Thankfully the friction is between the sub-team leaders, concentrating on two persons.
The key to good team building and managing is open dialogue. Loads of open questions, loads of work with words that click. I fully agree with Mike Henry Sr. above me, who suggests that the new leader should take the two team leaders into a ‘threesome’ and sell the vision and especially the main gain of the current arrangement to these two quarreling parties.
Not saying it is easy. It all comes down to interpersonal skills of the new leader. Managing team is more dialogue than monologue, even though most so called leaders take it that way.
Thanks jormap. I hadn’t thought of the forming/storming/norming/performing cycle. But, I see where it definitely applies to this situation.
I feel the temptation for monologue. It usually takes intention and discipline to lead an open conversation. Thanks for your insights.
I feel like step #1. above fits into your suggestion.
Wow! Hard to add to the comments so far: great builds on this challenge Dan, which is fairly common. One area I will share that I am interested in is community building. M. Scott Peck wrote about this in A Different Drum. He gave a great case study of this when a union and an employer were at logger heads on a pay dispute. They invited the author in to broker a community approach to the solution, and over two days they cracked it. The unions only had one problem – they could not take it to their members so quickly because they feared they would be seen as having sold out. So the two parties agreed a “staged stand-off” and after a few weeks they shook hands on the deal they had already struck. The point of this story is that all individuals come to the table with baggage and back stories. It can be hard to understand and relate to each others as humans when we carry this baggage. So jettisoning the baggage by getting to know your colleagues as people is a key foundation for outstanding success as a team. I hope this story serves…
Thanks Kevin. Your comment brought to mind an important lesson from The Anatomy of Peace. We need to enter these discussion with a heart of peace rather than a heart of war.
There may be a place to develop a heart of peace in the warring teammates that Passionate is dealing with.
BTW, if you wonder how I got to “heart of peace” from your comment, I’m not sure. It just came to mind.
Absolutely Dan – the heart of peace. In the thread of an article I posted elsewhere, I can see so many people struggling with hostility and negativity. And they wonder why they have problems growing successful businesses?! Another book to read – The Anatomy of Peace.
There’s a time for helping the combatants come to a mutual solution. But that can’t be too long. As long as they’re allowed to continue the feud between them they’re in charge. It’s time for clear expectations with clear consequences. Sometime Humpty Dumpty can’t be put back together again and its time to make a change and move forward.
Thanks Greg. “As long as they’re allowed to continue the feud between them they’re in charge.” You remind me of the challenge leaders face of spending too much time working on things that don’t work. I’m glad you shared your insights.
Many good ideas. The real question is how dependent the organization is on the domain skills of either of these leaders? If getting rid of either or both would cause a complete implosion, then the get tough approaches won’t work at first (and your first order of business should be to figure out how to relieve that dependency). If the situation permits, one approach might be to switch their roles and let them walk a mile in the other’s shoes for a while. Or you may be able to create some multi-functional teams with others in charge and basically sideline these actors for awhile.
Excellent subject. One of the key missteps I have seen is trying to engage the entire team in a process of team building when one or two members are the issue. It is important to deal with the problem swiftly. Either one or both of the senior leaders are the issue and you need to determine this and act. If they can be salvaged then consequences need be clear. If not, then separation needs to be quick. Only then can you start to build a high-performing team.
Thank you, Dan, for the great post and the many wise words from you and your subscribers. I experienced a very similar scenario as a member of one of the teams divided by two leaders who shared a mutual disdain for one another. They were both vary sharp, accomplished, and successful — and their respective teams were loyal to them. In retrospect, they had different visions and were pursuing different objectives — and, as Senior Vice Presidents, each sought to wield a greater influence. Eventually, they both left the company — on voluntarily and the other involuntarily as the result of a series of reorganizations. In retrospect, they would have needed common vision, goals, and purposes — and a respect for their complementary skill sets (or giftedness) to collaborate in unity. Their “hate” wasn’t personal — they are both great individuals; it was a professional friction that resulted in frustration and resentment.
All excellent comments, I prefer the meeting of the 3 to get items laid on the table with the new leaders vision of the team, if the 2 “Haters” can not come to an agreement, perhaps they need to be removed from the teams or as mentioned given a time period to see the light! After time period expires regroup and make more brash decisions as the leader.
Thanks Tim. I’m glad you shared your thoughts on this one. There’s more than one way to skin a cat. (apologies to cats.)
Thanks for the great post, Dan. Could you explain a little more what you mean by “imperfect behaviors”? I couldn’t get the precise meaning from context.
Thanks Kyle. I appreciate your question. We spend too much time searching for perfect answers. In most situations it’s better to find something that might work and give it a try, learn, and adapt. When we try to design perfect solutions we bombard them with potential problems and see if they stand up. But, when we do this, we lose the opportunity to learn as we go.
Also, “imperfect behaviors” release the pressure to always be right and puts people in a more open mindset. They don’t have to defend “THE” answer when they are learning as they go.
Hope that helps. Cheers
Your question helped me too Kyle. Thanks for answering so clearly Dan.
I really like your step 4 Dan for its focus on small behaviours, and your general suggestion that repeating this over time is what will shift the situation. Is there a book or anotyer longer source on this approach to behaviour change that you can recommend?
Dan, I’m not too far from entry level, but I would love it if my superiors did this more. Not necessarily with the unified team bit but I do feel like there is a somewhat adequate share of “what does X look like to you?” or “What do you need in order to get this done?” BUT it is almost always followed up by either (a) some type of weird negotiation or (b) reasons of why you won’t get Z, Y, or A. This is frustrating to your lover-level type person but also gives the impression that you the manager are spending most of your listening time trying to think of reasons and ways to say no. Additionally, I would much rather get a “Okay, we can do this thing you need, but let’s only try it for a single day. We can revisit tomorrow” than a negotiation – I probably don’t need as much help as I think. I am probably frazzled because I do need help and this makes it seem bigger than it is. Giving a 100% yes will make me feel less frazzled, make me feel listened to and heard, and placing a short time limit on it will ensure that you don’t lose too much of your valuable time as a manager assisting me when I don’t need it… because by tomorrow I’ll have realized I didn’t need as much help as I thought.
One of the first exercises I practice when entering into new leadership positions is to ask the team to submit their vision and core values for the department. I give them time to think about these and submit them privately. At a later meeting I read them outloud and highlight the similarities in vision and values. I often find that, although each person contributes and communicates differently, there are shared values that bind us. I print up the shared core values and post them prominently to serve as an ongoing reminder of the values that are the foundation of our daily work. These core values allow me to intervene with difficult interactions between staff by asking “How does __________ (behavior, idea, issue) align with our department’s core values?” or “Using our department core value of ______________, let us address this issue.” This exercise also allows for me to evaluate who fundamentally will not work out in the department and it allows them a chance to step up and reflect those values or go elsewhere that may align better with their core values.