Conflict? My Team?… oh yeah, it’s Monday… 1

Sunday afternoons are a great time around our house. We read the paper, settle the schedule for the week, walk the dogs, and sometimes take a nap.

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Dinner will be grilled “something” in every season but deep winter, and the TV gets a break until later in the evening. The routine has developed over the years as an antidote to the day which soon follows: Mondays.

I have been a part of teams and a leader of teams for most of my adult life. From the early days in the Navy to my later days as a civilian, the combinations of teams and Monday mornings have come to represent an endless opportunity for learning how to manage conflict. I have participated in and watched many others deal with this source of negative energy for as long as I can remember. Sadly my observation in most cases has been that the people leading those teams are not very skilled at it.

Leadership is a mix of theory and practice. There are probably as many books on leadership as there are on any subject you can imagine. Why so many books? Why have so many people made so much money on something that continues to struggle no matter how many books like “Seven Secrets to Successful Stupendousness” get published?

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I was noticing the other day in a few of my professional journals how many formulas there are for success and they all have numbered steps. Because I have not yet published my book on “Seven Steps for Superior Speaking using the Submarine Service Style” I will refrain from criticizing the need for numbers. Perhaps that will be my next book: “Seven reasons why highly successful writers don’t need seven reasons”.

Conflict often begins on a Monday for a number of reasons.

Conflicting goals within teams, conflicting goals within the same team, interpersonal communication conflicts, too many beers on Sunday afternoon and evening, boredom, lost tools, and… wait, conflict just kind of happens in and of itself sometimes. In a perfect world, you would just let the warring parties go off into a large room someplace and knock each other silly until they came to their senses. But that wouldn’t actually be a perfect world since they would somehow find a way to sue the company for not providing the loser with a safe and comforting workplace.

In the real world, schedules need to be met, production needs to run in harmony. Your customers really don’t care how you do it as long as the quality is high, the costs are reasonable, and the product or service gets there just in time. Unresolved conflict will stop all of these from happening.

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If your team members are focused on the C.O.O.D. (conflict of the day) instead of their regularly assigned work flow, your product quality will be reduced. I have seen this effect many times as we did root cause analysis on spikes in deficiencies. Operator inattentiveness more often than not can be traced as the real root cause (except in very hard core union shops where evil management and lack of care for the worker by that evil management is always the root cause.)

In the world of Lean/Continuous Improvement, we look for eight types of waste that do not add value to the product or service.

(I know, more numbers, but its acceptable across the whole Lean/CI world so who am I to fight it?)

Waiting, Unneeded Motion, Defects, Transport, Overproduction, Inventory, Over-processing, and unused Employee Input. If you think about an unresolved conflict in the workplace you can probably see where all eight of these can be impacted by unhappy or angry workers/leaders.

Solutions?

The first part of the solution is to accept the fact that its going on. The saddest and most ignorant comment I have ever heard a leader say is: “They are being paid to work and I expect them to do just that. We are not running a babysitting service here.” No you’re not but if you don’t find a way to manage conflict better, you might not have a business either. Constantly threatening your workforce adds no value and actually encourages a culture where the lack of trust and respect will eventually create a toxic work environment.

Here are some facts: You paid money to hire and maintain those employees at some point in their career or service. Whether the training was in a classroom or in the Gemba, their knowledge represents the corporate knowledge and skills that ultimately generate the income and bring your customers back for more of what you do. Firing the whole lot just means you will have to retrain a new group and you may lose your customer base in the meantime as you retool. Customers often have their own customers so there is no luxury of waiting for you to retrain your workforce.

Unresolved conflict adds to stress in the leadership team as well. The conflict will pop up in the worst possible places at the worst possible times. Instead of solving real problems, your leaders will have their attention focused on almost everything but the real issues of the day. Demoralized leaders leave. Sooner or later even the most loyal of your leadership will see an end game with no good outcome. Why would they continue to come into a pressure cooker every day when they can find another place that values their technical and leadership skills enough to create a great place to work?

The answer is simple. Using my five step model  you can magically transform conflict into productivity!

(You see, not a seven step model, a simple five step model which not only saves two whole steps – LEAN – but it’s magic!)

Actually, no it won’t. Nothing short of a transformation in your workplace will do that long term but you can start that transformation by not ignoring the fact that there is conflict. There are a number of processes out there that can help you on your journey to managing conflict but the real first step is the same as that required by every Alcoholic since AA was born: admit you have a problem.

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Here are my life observations about conflict management:

  • Conflict doesn’t exist because you have dysfunctional people, it begins because you have a culture that allows them to act in dysfunctional ways
  • If people trusted each other and their leadership, they would communicate with more effectiveness
  • If people communicate with more effectiveness, they will react to and solve problems more quickly
  • If people had a clear understanding of their roles and responsibilities in your culture, they could navigate more safely between the little daily “conflicts” that are going to occur in the best run organization
  • If people understand that conflict isn’t always negative and learn how to engage each other, your creativity and innovation will grow exponentially

There is no five step, six step or seven step process to managing conflict over the long term but you must work on building trust, communication, and clearly defined shared goals to make conflict work in your favor.

How do you know if there is conflict in your workplace? I always use the Monday morning test. Sit someplace quietly and observe your workforce (and their leadership) as they come in on Monday morning. Are they tired already? Do they interact with each other in a way that doesn’t include who won the game yesterday? Do they look like they want to be here at all no less than on a Monday morning?

For the people leading other people, here is another step:

Over the next few weeks pull out your Monday measurements including quality (rework) and overall results. Schedule a time with your leadership and have an honest talk about what you have observed. If you have been running the organization in a trust vacuum, this make take some time. But at some point, you have to figure out a way to manage the unproductive culture of unresolved conflict. Either that or plan on doing something completely different on Monday mornings in the future.

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Mister Mac

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