Q. Some folks on my team are having trouble getting along — it's a mix of generational, religious and political differences. I need them to work together effectively. What can I do?
A. Set expectations for civility and mutual respect … and then enforce them so that you create a safe and respectful work environment for everyone.
The inner game
Break down the issues one by one. Focus first on overt problems, stepping back and looking at the facts of the situation. It could be playing out in a number of different ways. For example, if the conflict is taking a personal nature, as in attacks over beliefs, then it may be rising to the level of an HR issue.
Or, it may be a communication or style misunderstanding; while still potentially challenging to address, there's a different level of organizational risk. Then, look at the undercurrents. Sometimes subtle behaviors can be the most corrosive.
Take a look at your skills to address this. Do you have an appreciation for the diversity represented on the team? Also look at the tone you've been setting. If you've been standing by while this plays out, it's important that you develop the ability to more actively lead through these problems.
Identify the resources available within your organization. You may need HR if problems are extreme. Or, you may find there are useful team building programs available. Also determine if you have a budget for outside support, as needed.
As a starting point, consider conducting a team assessment. It's helpful if you can have someone from outside the team interview each team member to identify team strengths, challenges and concerns. Results can be aggregated so that people's confidentiality is protected, but this will help you see the broader issues. If the third-party approach isn't an option, spend time one on one with each team member to gather each perspective.
Now do your diagnostics. Do you have a broad issue or is there a person or two stirring the pot? If the problem is limited, then you can set more stern expectations with them privately while you work with the team as a whole on establishing a positive climate.
If the issues are more widespread, set ground rules on what is and is not acceptable behavior. Then start exploring ways to build appreciation for people's individual contributions. Using a style assessment like DISC or profiling tool such as MBTI could help by providing some shared language about valid similarities and differences.
Set goals for team culture and include them on each person's annual plan. Not only will this help show people that you're serious, it'll give you tools if there are some who resist your efforts. Then spend time as a team and one on one to be sure people have the support they need to learn how to work together.
Don't be afraid to make changes. One toxic person can make all of the difference. If you can't bring everyone on board, make consequences clear and then follow through.
The last word
Your employees have a right to expect a positive workplace; setting clear expectations can help you achieve it.
What challenges do you face at work? Send your questions to Liz Reyer, a credentialed coach and president of Reyer Coaching & Consulting in Eagan. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.