Three Unconventional Ways to Get Your Direct Reports to Stop Bickering and Start Working Together Again
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Three Unconventional Ways to Get Your Direct Reports to Stop Bickering and Start Working Together Again

Three Unconventional Ways to Get Your Direct Reports to Stop Bickering and Start Working Together Again

“Jennifer, I’m so fed up with these two guys! I have told them – again and again — they have to stop going to the mat on every little thing.

I gave them your articles on how to give feedback to a coworker and how to engage in active listening, and coached them through both processes.

I sent them to our in-house negotiations training.

Today, I even lost my temper and raised my voice, which was so unprofessional of me, but I was exasperated.

I’m at the end of my rope with them. What’s left for me to try?”

Can you relate?

We’ve all had direct reports who rubbed each other the wrong way.

This is most common after a reorganization or realignment of resources. People you would never have hired to work together wind up working together, and they do it poorly.

Most of the time, it’s enough to simply coach your direct reports in active listening, feedback, and negotiation skills (and reward their progress, of course) to get them working together productively once again.

And then there are the problem children….

O.k., I admit it’s politically incorrect, but more than a few leaders have opened our consultation with, “My problem children are bickering again.” And that’s just what it feels like: you’re a parent of two siblings who don’t get along, and it’s in your face all day every day.

One challenge in today’s job market is that you can hardly threaten to fire them if they don’t work together to your standard. While it’s certainly a viable last resort, the cost and time to find replacements and the disruption to the function make this an undesirable solution.

Enter the Creative Alternatives

I’ve seen three rather creative alternatives work in this situation. The first one you will expect from me. The second and third, well, maybe not.

1.  Reframe it as a clash of styles that blocks productivity and hurts results. Explain in no uncertain terms the consequences to the business, and be specific. Then utilize an MBTI expert to explore their clashing styles with them and find a path forward in which they (perhaps begrudgingly) come to respect one another’s differing styles.

2. Book a conference room for the whole day and tell them they must not leave until they have figured out the reasons their working relationship is so ineffective, a solution they can both live with, and an execution plan to implement their solution. Be unbending on this requirement, but flexible on the method to get there. It might not be like anything you would have come up with. Drop in from time to time to show you’re serious about this, to coach them over any hurdles, and to make sure they don’t stop talking about their problem and start talking about work or the business in general.

3. Split them up. While it doesn’t develop their interpersonal and teamwork skills in the least, assigning one of them to a different function that has few or no interdependencies is one way to keep their poor working relationship from further damaging the business. Be clear that they both need to keep dramatically improving their skills, though. In today’s fast-changing business environments, teams form and change frequently, and everyone must be able to quickly figure out how to work well with a wide variety of people.

I hope these three ideas spark many more in your mind. There are as many ways to effectively deal with this challenge as there are people who seemingly just can’t get along.