"Work it out," you say when an employee comes to you with a conflict involving a colleague. That can be very empowering for someone, but it can also be a huge burden, one that cannot be resolved alone. As much as you might want to attend to business-customers, profit and loss statements (I know; those are your favorite), and other workaday concerns-leaving conflict resolution up to your employees may create more friction, not less.
People would be surprised, I think, if they realized how much they could learn from one another by simply listening and asking questions. We´re always so busy and when we have the opportunity to talk about ourselves and our work, well, we jump right to it and, in the process, neglect to give our co-workers a turn. If you don´t know your fellow team players it makes sense that the team itself might have a tough time being effective. So how do you facilitate a getting-to-know-you atmosphere without interrupting the workflow?
First, understanding from the get-go that cooperation and respect among employees are paramount to a company´s success. Letting a conflict between two or more people fester can erode your other staffers´ trust in your ability to lead. Don´t think for a minute that the relationship between two employees can´t affect the rest of your staff. Next, you need to make a commitment to what it really takes to create and then sustain solid working relationships. Time is crucial. If you don´t make the time for people to get to know one another-their strengths, weaknesses (yes, we all have them and there really isn´t another word here)-they won´t understand the origins of their disagreements.
Some people believe that the skills necessary for being a good team player can´t be learned. I disagree. If we give people a good reason for developing those skills, they´re more likely to buy into the work group principle. This is especially true if the rewards are tangible and specific. Of course most people need guidance. This can come from a coach you bring in from outside, a human resources professional who is particularly adept at facilitating work relationships, and, of course, you, the manager. If you notice, for instance, that someone seems overly sensitive to comments that most people accept, address the situation. Perhaps there´s an underlying cause for this individual´s reaction. Maybe another colleague´s good-natured teasing has gone over the line. It´s possible that something might slip out of your radar and when we don´t see something, well, we tend to get on with what´s right before our eyes.
Let´s say you find out that the team isn´t acting like a team-that people aren´t doing their fair share. Let´s face it: some people in a team environment have a tendency to spread their work around to others in an effort to avoid doing their part. When I was in graduation school we did a lot of group work and invariably there was one guy in our group of four who consistently pushed his responsibilities onto us. We were too young and inexperienced (and not nearly brave enough) to confront him, so for a long time we covered for him and seethed in the process. That wasn´t healthy then and it wouldn´t be right today.