As a founder you need to depend on your team to get their jobs done, done well and on time. But in any young startup, pressures mount, and personalities clash.  You may be uncomfortable with any kind of conflict – the healthy and the destructive kind. Healthy conflict is marked by openness and passionate debate that can yield positive changes. It requires a strong sense of trust between team players, and trust may still be a work in progress.  Destructive conflict, on the other hand, is mean-spirited and personal. Its source is often a grudge, an intent to find fault or weakness or a miscommunication. It can ignite a drama that spreads like wild fire throughout an organization wasting valuable time and money. It’s essential to know the difference.

The “sparks” I address in this post are the unhealthy, destructive kind. Those sparks, if ignored, can combust into bonfires. Some sparks fizzle out on their own. But if tempers flare, if your star players get snarky, or when people start calling in sick, a fire has begun because you’ve let things go too long. You can’t play parent to your team members, but it’s your job to be alert to these six sparks of conflict. Snuff them out before they affect your bottom line:

1) If you work remotely, make as many random, in-person appearances as possible. Meet face-to face with your team and watch them carefully as they tell you how things are going. Probe ambiguous comments or non-verbal behaviors that make you uncomfortable, by asking,

Nancy, I noticed you were rather quiet today. Is anything going on we need to discuss?

 Len, I need clarification on that last statement, can you help me understand what you meant?  

2)  Conference calls can be revealing too. Notice: Who is not participating like before? Who is interrupting or taking over the discussion? Do you notice anything unusual in the tone or energy of their voices? These behaviors may suggest a not-so-positive change in the group dynamic in the form of bullying, stonewalling or anger. Mention your observations to the team or the team leader and explore what may be going on.

3) Emails you or your team leaders receive may expose sparks of conflict. Look for unusual brevity, a change in tone, screaming CAPS, desperate run-on sentences with no punctuation, abrupt or disrespectful language. Approach the sender with your concerns and encourage team members to bring any disgruntled office communication, including tweets and Facebook posts, to your attention.

4) Teasing can be in fun, and if in jest, teasing can be a way to connect with the team and show a sense of humor. It can also be a subtle form of bullying. If you notice teasing, inquire privately whether the person being teased is 100% okay with it. If not, the teaser needs to cool down a bit – or a lot.

5) Listen for employees who are blaming others or not taking responsibility for something going wrong that was within their own control. Get the blamer and the “blamee” into the same room and hear both sides.

6) Are any employees taking frequent or suspicious sick days, arriving late to work or leaving early? This could be due to trouble with the team or personal problems that can affect the team. Take them aside, point out the irregular attendance, let them know their presence at work is valuable, and listen. You may discover the underlying cause(s).

Are you uncomfortable with conflict? Let me help you manage conflict painlessly. Contact me at [email protected]   

 

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