How do you cope with a conflict in your company?
What ‘s needed? Explore details. Keep an open mind.
The pattern of the conflict suggests the approach that is likely to succeed.
- Clashes and fixed viewpoints in board meetings
- A technical expert promoted to management but clueless about the emotional problems of their new subordinates.
- Polarized arguments in executive committees.
- Teams that can’t move forward.
- Mergers and split-ups.
- People who stop contributing.
- Managers blocking creativity.
- Cultural gaps.
Do you staff feel autonomous or under a manager’s thumb? What kinds of personalities contribute to the conflict? Will they change? Can you inspire them to work together?
- Problems in board block productivity. You need to lubricate, to boost everyone’s creative abilities.
You can sit quietly using tools of consciousness. You can scribe for the meeting so people see the discussion on large paper. That evening, the notes need to become minutes the Chair approves and everyone receives.
- Executive committees often get into a conflict that gets worse the more the committee debates. Each side’s position gets fixed until the committee is polarized and no one wants to give in.
Because everyone is in the same company, you can find the valuable but forgotten key they agree on.
Explore the views of each side during a meeting.
Would one side ever do what the other side does? After you feel the underlying key, bring it out. Then suggest a solution. When each side understands the other side, everyone will move forward for the good of the company.
- Teams that are stuck.
It may be a new team. It may be a team that has lost focus. A facilitator from outside should explore. With everyone’s trust, the facilitator asks, “What’s important about all this?”
The facilitator lists answers as given so everyone sees them.
The facilitator posts the list so it’s visible and makes a new list. “What is important about item one on the first list?”
This process continues until “What is important?” has been asked for every item on the first list.
The team feels eager to give high-performance. They feel they’ve inspired themselves.
- Learning to deal with emotions
A new manager, promoted because technical expertise, suddenly must help subordinates come with emotional issues at work or at home.
There are college courses, workshops, or learning by doing. I recommend direct coaching by a coach whose chemistry fits with the manager (or executive). It helps if the coaches can use the mistakes they made in dealing with emotions as examples. The two probably need to meet at least twice a week. The new executive or manager will need to learn to be frank and detailed with the coach, especially about difficulties and failures.
- Conflicts after a merger.
We are comfortable with the beliefs we know. A merger means we need new beliefs. A culture is a set of beliefs and the new company has a different culture because there are new people.
There are conflicts from the top to the bottom of the new company. Many conflicts are within people themselves from stretching into new beliefs. They need to be talked through.
Companies can pay for top people to talk with a counsellor or mentor. Since everyone must do it, use open meetings for the rest of the staff.
A facilitator chairs a meeting and lets everyone vent fears, frustrations, and suggestions. It’s wise for senior managers and executives to be be there but silent. (See Patrick Lencioni’s Silos, Politics, and Turf Wars).
Resolve conflicts between people in the merger quickly! What are the details: the cultural differences, the old beliefs, the new culture and structure, the personalities in conflict? Coach or inspired them to change. Experiment. Use an approach from a detached expert for three to six months. Then let everyone decide.
The second installment of this blog will give additional examples.
Contact me at 650-762-6755 or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information or to start a discussion.
Pieter Kark, MD, San Mateo, CA 94401-2238