Conflicts are normal. I agree with the psychologists who say that managers should sometimes provoke them. To maintain a healthy atmosphere in a team it is useful to burst out with negative emotions from time to time. However, it is important not to go too far. Revealing the symptoms of the disease, you need to treat it right away. Conflicts can be different, and each type requires special methods of treatment. However, they are not too many - only four of them.
In 20 years in business, I haven’t seen a single company where such conflicts don’t arise. They are the most useful and harmless ones - for the time being, of course. It happens like this. In one of the companies, where I worked as the Vice President of Marketing, a conflict broke out between two key departments - the department of marketing and sales during the implementation phase of the project. The sales department was displeased that they were constantly lacking bonuses because, as they believed, the marketing department understood neither market demands nor customers. At the same time, the marketing department was sure that they do everything alright, conduct good research, but the sales department simply cannot agree with chains of shops. Everyone was suffering.
We asked employees to write anonymous short essays on how they see the company where they work. Though everyone worked on one and same brand and posters with mottos and values were hanging on every corner, it turned out that all employees had different views on the company, colleagues were treated as rivals and the idea that everyone was on the same team and each bonus depended on the common efforts never crossed anybody’s mind. Such relations between colleagues are more often than you can imagine. Even companies that are successful on the surface are sometimes only 30% functional because of these very conflicts.
When the reason for the low efficiency of both departments became clear, we tried to unite them in one team. We had to conduct a lot of common meetings where we explained what opportunities new positioning promised the company, the customers and the partners, according to what principles new product lines would be created. The two departments began making decisions on products, advertisement materials, prices and sales channels together. As a result, we revised the product line completely and despite the crisis and rebranding boosted our sales by 35%.
I deliberately select people with different psychological types for the team. I like when there are discussions, various viewpoints, struggle for rates. To my mind, all of these create a healthy drive in the company. However, it is important not to miss the moment when the professional conflict turns into a personal grudge. The verge is very thin and painful.
In one of the companies, which was a client of mine, a latent conflict between the head of the sales department and the commercial director was smouldering for years. It burst out in flames when the subordinate was offered to head the new large division of the company. After the two month struggle which led to a sharp decline in rates the top management had to fire both employees with a heavy heart.
I try to prevent such conflicts - as soon as there is any suspicion, I have a private talk with each employee. I recommend the managers watch attentively the employees’ behaviour during corporate events. No tests can reveal interpersonal conflicts better than informal parties. If such parties are arranged correctly, it is very easy to relieve stress. Uniting conflicting people into one game team helps greatly. Try it, it is easier than it seems.
By the way, I would like to disprove the myth that such conflicts more often arise between women. My experience shows that in most cases those who get into emotional squabbles are men.
Most often I had to face this type of conflicts. They appeared when I appointed accomplished stars with high salaries and even higher ambitions as the heads of departments. Such stars are most often talented, clever, successful in their field people. However, the flip side of the coin is the bad temper and prejudice against people around.
Stars can present themselves well, they can negotiate with clients successfully, make bright projects, but they are not very easy to work with for common employees. Especially when the star’s demands to the team are not quite clear or when he or she has patterns and stereotypes about “how it all must be”. We get along perfectly well and agree upon everything with such employees in my office, but I can see and hear how difficult the relations are behind its doors. Of course, you can try to suppress the star’s ego with instructions, however, in this case, be ready to part with him or her soon.
Having learned this the hard way, now I treat carefully the stars who send their resumes by themselves and swore off enticing them from other companies. I prefer to develop professionals inside the company and tell the employees honestly about that and the perspectives which they have in case of bright results. I invite stars to lead seminars, to share experience, sometimes to take part in some of the projects, but to hire them for a permanent job - no, thanks.
The employee’s values very often don’t match the ones of the company. Sometimes, a seller has to sell the product that he or she doesn’t believe in, or a great manager is worried that he or she has to stay late at work missing training and meetings with friends because his or her head likes to appoint long meetings on the end of the workday. It leads to discontent with the company, decrease of motivation, emotional burnout, often sick days, firing.
I am against violence and oppression and prefer to reach an agreement with each employee in each certain case when my intuition hints me of the signs of the intrapersonal conflict. Simple decisions are usually enough. A valuable specialist who lost his or her motivation can always be appointed to another area. And the person who is suffering from emotional strain can be allowed to come to work later if he or she was working late yesterday or even to work remotely for some time.