Have you ever had to manage a team that has a decent amount of disrespect and suspicion in it?
While the level of productivity may be acceptable -they are doing their job, the level of friction within the team is unhealthy and hinders further productivity.
This can happen in teams made up of diverse groups (such as a subject matter expert, two salespeople, a few administrative support staff and an engineer) or even within a single department (such as a set of developers with different skill levels and different approaches to testing or application architecture). The friction is rarely due to a diversity of skills or function, but rather to a failure to communicate respectfully.
A great way to overcome this is to adopt the policy: “Don’t let anyone talk negatively about anyone else unless they are present.” This advice was given but a consultant and project manager from IBM and is some of the best advice you will ever receive.
Announce this new policy at your next scheduled Team Meeting. Make sure everyone understands how very important this is to you. But don’t expect them to imagine how this could be put into practice. In the following weeks, show them!
The first time someone comes to you with an “issue” about another team member, stop them as quickly as you can without being abrupt, and then call the “offending” party into your office to join you. Be careful to occupy the original member with questions about their own efforts and progress while waiting for the other member to arrive. Then, invite the original member to tell you about their “issue” in the presence of the “offending” member.
Some refereeing is needed in these situations, but you will find that the offended party takes a generally more reasonable and respectful tone in stating their complaint. And the offender, if indeed they were offending, likely will be much more reasonable in their explanation.
Often, offense was taken due to limited understanding of the other person’s situation. Create a forum in which each member gets a glimpse of the other’s circumstances, motives, and concerns. You will find that this usually defuses the conflict, or at least makes it easier to find a solution acceptable to both parties. This is one of the situations in which a meeting can be productive.
As the members of the team learn this process in your office over time, the practice will spread. Don’t be surprised if it only takes a few weeks before a member with “a bone to pick” brings the other party with them to begin with. Things will get less tense at Team Meetings. Friction will be reduced, productivity will increase, and your job will get a lot easier by instituting this simple rule.