4 posts categorized "Team Dynamics"

March 12, 2018

How Teams Can Work Together Despite Opposing Views

While most of us forge friendships with like-minded people who affirm our strongly held beliefs, we don’t choose our colleagues. This makes it inevitable that at times some of the people we work with will hold different views on a number of topics, not least of all politics.

Historically, certain topics were off-limits in the workplace: religion, politics and personal dramas to name just a few. However, thanks to the advent of social media and 24-hour, multi-media coverage of politics, tensions in some workplaces are rising. Additionally, conversations about recent polarizing political events are being had despite the stress it may cause.

The American Psychological Association found in their post-election survey that nearly a third of all employees had witnessed coworkers arguing about politics, and 15% had been involved in an argument themselves. Furthermore, 24% admitted to avoiding some colleague because of their political views.

In an environment where people should be collaborating and working towards shared goals, arguments over non-work issues and colleagues avoiding each other is more than a little worrying. Such discord can end up affecting productivity, and will become evident as you conduct employee performance evaluations and monitor objectives and key results at work. So how should businesses deal with political discussions in the workplace?

Monitoring Workplace Conversations

It may be tempting to ban conversations about politics altogether, especially if they are adversely impacting workplace productivity and employee relations. However, monitoring every conversation throughout the day and nurturing a culture of distrust and finger-pointing to enforce such a ban is counter-productive.

As Sally Bibb discussed in her book ‘Strengths-Based Recruitment and Development: A Practical Guide to Transforming Talent Management Strategy for Business Results’, rich company cultures are built through allowing people to be themselves. Tolerance for different approaches and different views need to be nurtured and balanced by an equally weighted importance of understanding that business is performance-based. Although diversity is necessary, the common goals of the company should override personally held political or other views.

Simply put, employees aren’t robots who turn off their emotions when entering the office and return to their normal selves at the end of the work day. People bring their whole selves to work and workplaces are better for it. It enables inspired collaborative discussions and we all benefit from multiple views to help us find solutions to shared business problems.

Dealing with Heated Workplace Discussions

Tension in the workplace should never be ignored by company leaders, be it based on political or other strongly held views. It is unlikely that tension will evaporate spontaneously, and if it’s impacting performance it should be addressed sooner rather than later.

Recognizing differences, acknowledging points of tension, and addressing them openly can begin to dissipate ill-feeling. Rather than trying to change opinion or gloss over differences, managers should affirm with their teams that they can work together despite differing opinions.

Discussions on political topics should rarely be shut down, and guiding principles should be put in place to ensure talk is kept civil and all employees feel they are able to express their feelings in a safe and supportive environment without causing tensions or escalating problems in the workplace. The principles of respect, keeping the focus on achieving business goals, and fostering an inclusive and collaborative workplace should be conferred regularly in companywide meetings or in one to-one performance reviews.

Common Goals Bring Us Together

Just as there have been a number of polarizing political events in the past year, so too have there been occasions where people have put aside differences to focus on common goals. The same should be true of the workplace.

We will always have differing views to colleagues on a range of topics, from politics to how we raise our children. The key is to focus on the business’ worthwhile goals and put aside the differences that have no bearing on the tasks at hand.

By seeing the bigger picture of what the company is aiming to achieve, employees are better able to focus on key objectives, effectively collaborate, and achieve optimal employee performance.

Maintain Workplace Efficiency with a Social Media Policy

Social media has become one of the main sources for political news, especially for Millennials. Keeping one eye on feeds not only distracts employees from their work, but also increases the possibility of heated discussions interrupting workplace harmony.

Soft policies to minimize social media use during work hours can keep people focused and contribute to work efficiency. If political discussions do arise, managers should try to re-direct discussions to issues that impact work-life–not personal life. Additionally, they should encourage workers to keep it light-hearted with non-confrontational questions, rather than beginning discussions on heated issues where there is little-to-no middle ground.

Seek to Understand

Political discussions, or any discussion with people holding opposing views to our own don’t have to be difficult, and can ultimately be extremely productive. Having conversations with colleagues and people who hold differing views to our own with the intention of learning new perspectives and opening our world view can have positive impacts on the workplace and our lives in general.

Learning how to discuss politics and other issues in productive and empathetic ways can help us in all areas of our lives, from work performance reviews to relationship issues. Speaking with tact and listening effectively will make political and other potentially heated discussions easier and beneficial for both parties.

Politics can’t be ignored. The policies made by government affect every corner of our lives, but we can’t let it create a negative work atmosphere either. Today’s leaders and managers must show responsibility when enabling employees to express themselves freely to ensure a healthy company culture and the core standards of respect, inclusiveness and focusing on business goals can be maintained.

October 06, 2016

Statistics for those in doubt about the hidden costs of conflict in the workplace...

An Integra Realty Resources' Survey of 1305 adults in the workplace
revealed the following:

42% Observed yelling or verbal abuse
29% Yelled at co-workers themselves
23% Cried over work-related issues
14% Damaged machines or furniture
10% Experienced violence in the workplace
2% Struck a co-worker

What is your experience?

Are you surprised at these results?

April 23, 2015

Guest Blog: From Failing to Unstoppable: Transforming Your Team

By Maria Simpson, Ph.D.

[email protected]

The wine shop had been losing money for a long time, and the owners were in debt and not talking to each other. Staff members were frustrated that their expertise was being ignored and they were treated disrespectfully. The little wine tasting bar with a short food menu had few if any customers, and the band that played once a week was terrible, even if it was the owner’s band. The place was disorganized and messy.
Call in “The Profit!” Marcus Lemonis is a business consultant who saves businesses,and does it very publicly on CNBC. His method of saving a business provides an excellent example of what it takes to transform a failing team to a really excellent, unstoppable team. Some of the drama is probably hyped for reality TV, but most of it feels quite real. The decisions Lemonis makes and the leadership he demonstrates are excellent examples of how to create an effective team and run a business.
Lemonis buys 51% of the business, making him the decision-maker. In this case he took several steps immediately. First, he gained support from the staff by asking them what  wasn’t working and what would work better, and respecting their insight. He listened carefully to understand the interpersonal and management problems. Then he went back to the numbers and wasn’t shy about asking the owners how it could have gotten so bad. Finally, he acted immediately to address the problems he found.

As a result:

  • After laying out the terms of the investment, one owner decided to be a silent partner and just took his share of the profits.
  • Senior staff members were made partners and given a share of ownership. When the not-so-silent partner objected, Lemonis reminded him that he no longer controlled the business. (Lemonis asserted his leadership authority generally without anger and respectfully, but he wasn’t averse to arguing, either.)
  • Staff members were involved in all decisions from banishing the band to determining what to sell and how the physical space should be reorganized. They started to work collaboratively.
  • Staff expertise was respected, and they had authority to make decisions in their own departments.
  • Conflicts were addressed immediately. When someone asked to talk to him, Lemonis said sure and went to a private space. He did not ask to finish a conversation, come back in ten minutes, or make an appointment. He acted immediately.
  • When there were blow-ups he worked at repairing relationships, even with the difficult owner.

Of course, the team was transformed, the business flourished, the angry owner changed his behavior, and everyone made a mint. Since the name and location of the business are quite public (Amazing Grapes) the case is real and can be tracked down through CNBC.
On the other hand, challenges are faced very differently in a successful team. 
The guest conductor of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra was ill, and although he’d made it through the first three pieces on the program, he couldn’t make it through the fourth. The concert mistress announced that they would perform Mozart’s “Jupiter Symphony” without him.  The symphony is well-known, these are world-class musicians, and they have played it many times before, but not without a conductor, and everyone wanted to see what would happen.
The musicians clearly respected and admired the concert mistress, they respected her position of leadership, and she respected all of them. And the audience was once more greatly impressed with the expertise of the musicians. They might have gotten a little plodding in the middle of the piece, maybe because they all wanted to be very careful, but she said something to her colleagues just before the final movement, and they played with enormous energy. The bravos were loud and the applause long. It was wonderful.
What differentiated this team from the business team? First, the musicians had enormous mutual respect for each other’s expertise and for the leadership role. Many of the musicians have independent touring schedules or play with other groups, and their CDs are available at every performance. Also, many of these musicians have been together for at least ten years, playing a wide variety of music, so they knew they could count on each other to play well. Mutual respect was lacking in the wine shop.
Second, the musicians were well-prepared for their jobs. They had just completed a very modern piece, which required extraordinary musicianship, so they had broad musical experience and preparation that made it possible for them to rise to any challenge. They knew their responsibilities and managed them expertly. They didn’t need oversight. In the wine business, staff expertise was not respected and was instead undermined and ignored.
Third, leadership was obvious and inspired commitment. The music director is beloved by the orchestra and the audience, and his commitment inspires the commitment of every musician there. I’m sure no one misses rehearsals or comes to a new piece without knowing how to play it. In the wine business, the owners were rarely on site but gave no authority to the department heads to make decisions in their absence. Lemonis told the angry partner that all he had to do to be part of the new team was show up, and he failed to do that until the day when the store was being renovated and he had had no input into the decision. Lemonis told everyone what would happen and then stuck to the plan even if it meant leaving someone out.
Last, the LACO musicians trusted each other and their leadership. If they had had disputes, and what team doesn’t, those were put aside in performance so they could reach their mutual goal: wonderful music for an greatly appreciative audience in what was, for them, a bit of an emergency. The lack of trust among wine shop staff undermined everything they tried because they wouldn’t commit to a plan when they couldn’t count on each other to make it work.
And perhaps trust is the most important element in any team’s success. With trust they can talk about anything, explore difficult issues, examine their own performance and count on each other in difficult times or unexpected circumstances. In the wine shop the lack of mutual trust was obvious. Without that basic trust, bad decisions couldn’t be reviewed and better ways of doing things found.
It’s easy enough to have an unstoppable team. All you need is trust, competence, and a shared vision with equal commitment from all. And some really good leadership.

September 20, 2007


This new blog is the result of feedback I received from readers of my Conflict Managment E-Newsletter. Many indicated that they wanted me to write more, and to share my pracitical insights about the management of conflict through articles, case studes, practice notes, and in the form of tips.

I have created a number of categories that appear in the left hand navigation bar. My intention is to add at least one new entry a month that will address the categories that I have created.

Please feel free to comment and add your thoughts as we go along.

With appreciation for your support,

John Ford