Team Building? Not So Fast –
We were recently involved in a project stemming from long standing disagreement(s) between two managers. Over time criticisms that enlisted the support of departments and businesses outside the organization had escalated. Within the past 12 months, issues that began as small, bloomed into direct conflict. The conflict that had become a fact of workplace culture had now divided departments, threatened production and fostered a toxic work environment.
How did we get involved? We were first contacted to provide team building exercises for the two departments. This always has the potential for being a significant red flag. Sure enough, after several conversations with HR and the CEO, it was apparent that some serious groundwork had to be completed – starting with determining the initial misunderstanding(s).
Our first task was to meet with all internal personnel involved in the dispute to sort out the details tracing back to the original problems. This effort is particularly onerous when time, culture, and power play out to draw up sides. Any appearance of inequities of interviews or recording of findings could quite possibly torpedo the process. Sorting through the “he said – she said” conversations is tedious – but extremely important from a fairness standpoint. Mediation is built on the assumption that each party will get equal treatment. It’s the main component in establishing and proving trustworthy behavior.
So how did the process go? Actually quite successfully. The initial fact finding meetings with persons directly related to the conflict yielded two opposing individuals. It soon became apparent that an incident in 2009 (real estate market meltdown) involving staff cuts reduced the staff of A in relation to the staff of B by a 1:50 margin. Pretty significant until contract obligations were reviewed. Keep in mind this was a time of great uncertainty where emotions ran high and fears about keeping one’s job was on everyone’s mind – from CEO to drivers.
After a historical review of staffing ratios with both A and B, light was shed on causes for staff reductions in both departments. This is where our time meeting with all related persons paid off. By giving everyone time to present their story – and to listen to others – understanding began to build. We suspect that sometime soon after the initial layoffs, communication began to falter. With broken communication, philosophical walls were built between the two departments and ill will prevailed.
Basic conversations were then ready to be cultivated between the two managers starting with general open ended questions regarding the company in general, moving towards department-specific topics. We used the department specific topics to move into a type of brainstorming exercise. The beauty of this transition was to begin collaborative discussion. It was a rocky few weeks of discussion – but mended feelings and a united cause is a good space.
Now, we’re ready for team building…….