How do you believe a manager should handle rivalries and friction between co-workers?

Wednesday, August 13th, 2008 - Uncategorized

Alan asks: How do you believe a manager should handle rivalries and friction between co-workers? Just curious in the viewpoint of this vast well of experience and knowledge. In some fields, this may be a very positive thing and in others…it is likely less than productive.

In answer:
In most cases, friction is a bad thing which results from poorly managed rivalry. Friction is also often a one on one personal thing, as opposed to a competitive internal rivalry.

Some functions thrive on rivalry – sales is the most obvious, although it can also spin into customer service: not good in my book, normally on measures of customers handled; where as best practise suggests that should be on customer satisfaction, where the internal goal needs to be totally inline with long term customer loyalty. Some companies even actively structure for rivalry – Seiko in watch design and innovation will have at least two teams on every design brief (to reduce time to market/increase the innovation); while HP never have a facility over 120 people, and hence have rivalry between associated facilities on similar products.

However, in each case where rivalry is built in, there is a great emphasis and specific activity on building overall loyalty to “one team, one brand.” This is a bright and constant reminder on the hierarchy of message, in that “OK, there is rivalry – but at the end of the day its us as one team on one brand: screw the competition rather than each other!” Both Seiko and HP have such team building budgets and targets, as do the good sales managers on an at least quarterly basis – time scales beyond that tend to create friction situations.

Friction as a one on one focus is not good – it spreads like a poison across a team and a company, destroying first co-operation, then agenda, and eventually customers which leads to income reduction. I due diligenced a company for potential purchase last year, where the friction had got so bad that I had to meet the two equal co-owning directors on different occasions at different locations! Even the business sales agent couldn’t cope with it or them.

Friction needs to be addressed quite simply like a boil – quickly, immediately, and wholly resolved at the end of it. A manager can spot the situation and find common agenda – if its done early enough, that agenda and loyalty to the company is large enough lever to act as the resolve – and create common agenda on which two people can then agree between themselves to accept difference but work harmoniously for their own and the common good. Where I have had conflict situations in teams, I ask the two protagonists to come back with an agreed written understanding – and suggestions on developmental learning: often friction is created but not understanding and lack of communication, rather than pure hate.

In summary, rivalry is not bad as long as the common agenda is big enough and supported by management – but friction needs quick and immediate cure before it destroys a lot more than a singular relationship.

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