We’d all like to think that our teams are models of professionalism and never get sidetracked by emotions or interpersonal conflict. But in reality, drama and unproductive conflict can creep into teams if you don’t purposely create a culture that’s inhospitable to it. Here’s how to do it.
1. Model a no-drama approach yourself. Team members will take their cues from you. If you gossip, react strongly to difficult news, are often in crisis mode, or regularly have interpersonal conflicts, you’re likely to see that behavior on your team as well. But if you’re calm, cultivate a sense that everyone is on the same team, don’t overreact, don’t indulge in gossip, and take a low-key approach to office politics and interpersonal relationships, you’ll reinforce the behavior that you want to see from your staff. So if you’re seeing drama on your team, the first thing to do is to ask yourself some tough questions about what you might have been modeling for them.
2. Actively discourage unconstructive interpersonal conflict. Too often, when two teams members are having a long-running and unconstructive conflict with each other – one that’s interfering with their abilities to perform their roles effectively and which is distracting others around them – managers throw up their hands and let it play out. Sometimes managers figure that these are adults who can manage their own relationships at work and that it’s not their place to step in. And while that’s certainly true for minor conflicts, when something goes on for a while and affects the work or people around them, good managers will call out the behavior and make it clear that it’s not in sync with the culture they want. People don’t have to like each other, but they do need to treat each other pleasantly and professionally, and as a manager you can make it clear that that’s part of the job as much as the work people do.
3. Create an explicit value around people cooperating and operating with good will toward their colleagues. Not only should you call out problematic behavior when you see it, but you should be transparent about what you do want to see. One way to do this is to create an explicit team norm around low drama and assuming positive intent, and discuss it at team meetings, when onboarding new employees, and when you see examples of it playing out on your staff. (For instance, if one of your staff members deals particularly cheerfully and kindly with a colleague on another team who’s prickly and difficult to work with, tell her you notice and appreciate it.)
4. Make sure that you’re setting clear goals and providing enough direction. Often on teams that are full of fighting and drama, part of the problem is that people aren’t spending time on the work they’re there to do – either because they don’t have clear goals with ambitious benchmarks to hit or because their manager isn’t providing them with clear direction. Sometimes in drama-filled situations, managers or their advisors feel they should focus on the interpersonal side of things: communication styles, conflict resolution, and team-building activities. But often those things don’t address the real issues: a culture that allows drama and in-fighting (possibly because staff members are seeing it mirrored from the top), lack of direction, and not enough focus on work and accountability.
Have you seen drama play out at work? Tell us about it in the comments…