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.

Dear Dan:

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

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Dear Passionate,

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.

  1. “But if you did know…?”
  2. What suggestions would you offer someone else?
  3. 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.

  1. What did you try?
  2. How did it work?
  3. What did you learn?
  4. What behaviors should we stop? (Look for behaviors that weaken the circle.)
  5. What would you like to try this week to strengthen the circle?

Seven general suggestions:

  1. Building a brighter future is better than fixing a broken past.
  2. Explore why unity is important for the team and the individuals on the team. Make it personal.
  3. 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.
  4. Publicly honor anyone who behaves in ways that strengthen the circle. Just go nuts when you see something positive happening.
  5. Remind team mates that some behaviors are self-defeating. “How is your resistance serving your best interests?”
  6. Work on inter-personal issues after the team has strengthened the circle.
  7. 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?

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