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ATD Blog

Why can’t the employees on my team get along?


Tue Apr 16 2013


The tension in your department has now become extremely noticeable.  Two distinct camps with separate agendas have emerged.  It’s as if the main aisle has become the invisible yet official boundary line, and if crossed, the surveillance team from either group will quickly report the activity of their counterparts to the rest of their team.

If a similar scenario has occurred in your organization, it’s important to understand what not to do as well as what you should do to bring harmony back into the workplace.  Many managers at this point make the critical mistake of giving a “pep talk” to the department about working together or even reviewing the employee handbook (yes…the book they never read) as it relates to behavior.  The problem with this approach is that it does not directly address the root of the problem.  Failure to deal with the specifics of what is causing the dysfunction in your department will result in countless meetings and other corrective actions that merely provide temporary improvement.


So, what should you do when your staff members can’t seem to get along with each other?  Is firing everyone and starting over the answer?  No!  Even if you had the authority to terminate everyone, you would still have the same problems with the next set of employees unless you changed the dynamics causing the poor employee interactions.  Therefore, how do you get your current team to stop bickering and work together to achieve the common goals of the organization?  Follow the suggestions in the section below:

  1. The “hands-off” model doesn’t work – Some managers take the position that they will allow their department to evolve organically with little managerial input.  As proof, they will often cite well-known companies with untraditional structures as a guide.  Here is the problem.  Those well-known companies have systems in place to support those structures.  If you try to apply their format without the underlying framework you will be left with chaos, similar to a group traveling on a bus without a driver.  It is your job as a manager to guide the department towards the destination.  What systems can you implement today that could help your team arrive at the necessary goals?  Also, it’s important that you refrain from taking the position of letting the problem resolve itself.  Let me be clear.  Problems never resolve themselves.  If you see two employees (or a group) having continued difficulty with each other, it’s your responsibility to intervene (which leads to the next point below) before the situation becomes worse and the relationships become more fractured.

  2. Get to the root of the problem – Each of the warring factions in the department have a leader so to speak.  You need to meet with those leaders first before having a larger discussion with the group.  Why?  Because the problem(s) probably originated with these two individuals and over time, they began to secure allies who agreed with their viewpoint.  Also, every large-scale problem originates with one specific issue or series of issues.  If you cannot get to the root of the major problem in the department, all of your other efforts will be ineffective.  So, when discussing the issue with those leaders you want to ask certain questions such as: what is the specific problem, how did this problem affect you or your job, how long has it been an issue, what have you personally done to contribute to the issue, or what can you do starting today to resolve the issue? 

What tips do you have to assist other managers dealing with employees who are having difficulty working together?  Share your comments below.  Also, if you enjoyed this post, share it with your community using the social media icons found on this page.

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