Four Strategies to Stop Seeing Your Teammates as Opponents

As a manager, I have dealt with many instances of infighting between people within the same department or on the same team. It usually went something like this:

Photo by David Clode on Unsplash

Photo by David Clode on Unsplash

  1. Person A gets mad because Person B took too long in completing his/her part of the work.

  2. Person B thinks Person A is sloppy, so he/she is reluctant to turn over his work.

  3. They both complain about each other to other colleagues, or to managers, or to anyone who will listen.

  4. And then it gets awkward for everyone.

 We’ve all been there, right?

POP QUIZ:

Image you are a project manager and two of the members of the project team are in this type of petty battle. What do you do?

A) Accept that the two are professionally incompatible and take pains to keep them from having to working together?

B) Take sides with one of them, and risk alienating the other person?

C) Wait it out and hope the conflict just goes away?  After all, they are adults…

Trick question! The answer is NONE OF THE ABOVE!

Unless the behaviors of one or both of the dueling team members are egregious enough to warrant disciplinary actions, there is only one good course of action for a manager: figure out a way to convince the players that they are on the SAME TEAM.

How does that work, you ask?

Of the many hats managers must wear, the toughest is probably that of a diplomat: navigating and negotiating contention relationships in the pursuit of a common goal.

While each team member may have a different role and set of responsibilities, it’s in everyone’s interest for the project to be a success. Whether the goal is making a critical deadline, meeting sales projections, or ensuring all the customers’ needs are met, failure to achieve the desired outcome reflects poorly on the whole team.

The key to reframing the goals is to facilitate a discussion of all affected team members about the optimal conditions everyone needs in order to get the job done.

Here are four tried-and-true strategies for approaching this discussion:

  1. Present the stakes as they are: everyone needs the team to function well and everyone is expected to compromise for the greater good. Make it clear that the purpose of the meeting is to figure out how you can all work together to accomplish that goal.

  2. Do not allow the discussion to devolve into finger pointing. Set this as a ground rule up front, and facilitate the discussion in a way to make sure all feedback is constructive and avoids placing blame on any individual(s).

  3. Keep the discussion moving: don’t spend too long on any individual complaint or conditions. Keep returning to the big picture: getting the project done right!

  4. Don’t take sides: it is imperative that the manager and facilitator remain impartial and maintain the position that the outcome of the whole team is the only goal that matters.

So next time you feel more like a playground monitor in a kindergarten than the manager of a team of adults, put on your diplomat hat and put an end to the squabbles.