Most seasoned managers have, at some point in their careers, had to deal with two employees who either don’t like each other, or refused to work together. When managers find themselves with employee conflicts on their teams, they often also find that the morale and productivity of their team has been impacted. If the conflict is substantial enough, you might even find yourself with a downright toxic workplace environment.
In these situations, the manager has a few choices.
- You can leave your employees to it, and hope they work out the differences on their own. Sometimes the employees will do just that and the conflict becomes a non-issue. Other times, both parties can agree to disagree and life goes on.
- One counterpart can bend over backward to get along with the other employee. Neither party is very happy with the outcome, but the job gets done.
- One employee leaves the organization in search of a company that promotes teamwork and holds employees accountable for working well with each other as a team.
- The manager can’t get the conflict resolved, gets tired of listening to both employees, and fires one or both of the employees.
- The manager changes the organizational structure so the employees no longer have to work with each other. Designing the organizational structure around personalities is good for consultants, but rarely good for the organization.
As a manager, what can you do? Here are 9 ways to make a positive difference and restore harmony and productivity to your team.
Communicate the issue to your manager and human resources. Let both your HR team and your manager know that you have two employees who don’t get along, and you plan on meeting with them to get the conflict resolved. You want to notify both HR and your manager because in these situations, things can change in a heartbeat. For instance, one employee doesn’t like your conflict resolution meeting and runs out of the meeting and directly to HR. You don’t want either HR or your manager to be surprised.
Meet with each team member one-on-one to gain their perspective. Meet with each team member individually and work with them on gaining a better understanding of why there’s a conflict, what their role in the conflict is, and what actions they can take to improve the situation and work well together as a team.
Lean into the conflict. Meet sooner rather than later. In these situations, hoping that this conflict will resolve on its own is like hoping that the Middle East is going to be quickly free of strife. Conflict rarely resolves itself. Most often, conflict that isn’t properly dealt with escalates to the point where it can negatively impact the morale and productivity of the entire team.
Hold a future focused meeting. Bring the two employees together and focus the discussion on what needs to happen moving forward for both employees to feel supported by the other employee and work well together as a team.
Set expectations. Define acceptable behavior. Let each team member know that you don’t care if they don’t like each other. It’s important that both team members understand that one of the most basic competencies of their job is to be able to work together and communicate with each other as a team members. If these individuals cannot work with each other as a team, they may not be fully qualified for their jobs.
Stay neutral. Whether both employees involved are your direct reports, or only one of the employees is your direct report, it is important that you stay neutral. When you take sides, you quickly undermine your leadership credibility. If a conflict has escalated to the point where it’s been brought to your attention, then it is very likely that both parties bear responsibility for the conflict.
Document agreed upon actions. One of the goals of meeting with the two employees is to determine what each team member will do to improve communication and teamwork. As each team member says what they will do to improve the condition of the relationship, take notes. At the conclusion of the meeting, send the notes and actions to both team members along with the time of the next scheduled meeting. This documentation serves two purposes. First, it will remind the employees what they have each agreed to do to improve the relationship. Second, you have documentation in place if either employee decides not to follow through on what they have agreed to do, and the relationship continues to deteriorate.
Hire a consultant. When the stakes are high, such as with two executives who are strongly entrenched in protecting their turf, it may be better for the boss to stay out of the conflict resolution, and let a consultant meet with the team members to resolve the conflict. Otherwise, both executives may be angry at the boss for not taking action and supporting their side of the conflict. After the conflict is resolved, a meeting can be held with the boss to determine what each team member is going to do differently in the future.
Meet frequently. After the initial conflict resolution meeting, schedule a meeting one week out to talk about what went well or right over the last week, and where there are opportunities to build even stronger communication and teamwork. When team members know they are going to meet again and talk about the relationship, they tend to work better as a team. If the meeting goes well and the relationship improves after one week, the next meeting can be held two weeks out.
Employee conflicts can seriously impact the morale and productivity of your whole team. View conflict resolution as a leadership opportunity, and take quick action to prevent the conflict from escalating and causing even more damage.