7 steps to create a positive culture

We’ve all heard it… colleagues spending countless hours whining and whinging about the things other people/management do/don’t do/should do/could do…

It’s exhausting to listen to and it’s unproductive. These conversations are often petty and destabilising to management and teams. Endless gossipy conversations within a team reflect a negative workplace culture and diminish the capacity of the team to be effective.

And yet, so often, management tolerate the petty infighting, the moaning and groaning. They accept it as part of normal office culture. Some managers that I have worked have tried to sort out the problems by asking for “honest” feedback in the hope that they will get to the bottom of the problem, and then are surprised when no-one speaks up.

Employees are not going to “dob in” their boss or their colleagues to the boss. Nor are they going to be the one that rocks the boat; that takes responsibility for the unhappy culture of the organisation. That’s way too risky. There is a risk that if you speak up, you will then become the target of the criticism – so it’s just not going to happen.

So how do leaders/managers create a culture where people stop complaining?

  1. Call it out. If someone complains, ask them what are you going to do about the problem? As an individual in a workplace you don’t have to take on the problems of others. However you will be part of the problem if you listen to people complain and whinge and don’t encourage real action about the complaint.
  2. Increase the opportunities for staff to raise issues. Hold regular staff meetings and other touch point meetings and encourage staff to talk about what is working well and what can be done better. Be open to suggestions for improvement; make it safe for staff to speak up.
  3. Focus on the great work your organisation does. If you believe in what you do then sell it. Lots of workplaces are doing great work; but the work itself is hard. Don’t focus on how hard the work is or the problems that arise from time to time; focus on the value of the work you do for the greater good of society.
  4. Encourage staff to address problems immediately. Practice speaking up; provide training on assertiveness and conflict management techniques; make it ordinary and safe to have a critical conversation.
  5. Empower staff to problem solve. Give them the tools, space and trust to resolve issues. A lot of management time can be taken up resolving internal staff disputes. Trust them, as adults, to resolve these issues themselves. Don’t try and fix everything immediately; let the staff members attempt to resolve it themselves and support them to do that.
  6. Celebrate successes regularly. That way you focus on the good stuff; and stop sweating the small stuff.
  7. Check in at the end of every week. What worked well this week? What could we improve? Language is important. If you start the conversation with “what went wrong” this week, the tone of the conversation will deteriorate into negative territory.

If you want a positive work environment – create it.

Who’s the boss?

I have worked with a number of family businesses where the chain of command is hard to distinguish. There are often two or three members of the family who appear to be running the business but there is no real structure and it slows down the decision making process.

Alternatively, a parent is supposedly the Managing Director or CEO but they don’t have the respect of their children and other family members and their decision making authority is undermined. Or the opposite can be true; a parent has difficulty handing over the reins of
power to their children. They constantly question decisions made by their children.

This often leads to feelings of being disrespected, with increasing levels of conflict and disharmony. The reaction to the conflict may be subtle – eg not communicating information to other family members who might disagree with them or complaining to people outside of the business. Problems with communication can place the company at risk; errors may be made and opportunities lost because family members have a diminishing amount of trust and tolerance for each other.

In many cases the problems that are glaringly apparent now, have been a problem for years. There is always a history as to how these issues came about in the first place. When dealing with family business disputes we always have to go back and revisit the past.

We need to do that for two reasons; firstly we need to honour our past. We would not be where we are today if we did not do what we did in the past. We may have made some mistakes, but we are still operating and making money and that is due to the way we have managed ourselves in the past. And secondly we need to review what has happened in the past that may have impacted on our relationships now. We need to take responsibility for any pain we may have caused or arrangements we put in place which are not as respectful as they could have been.

It takes courage to rip off the bandaid and revisit events that happened in the past; but without acknowledging and healing old wounds or dealing with some of the elephants in the room it will be hard to move forward.

We then need to review the decision making process. We need to work out what is working and what is not and we need to create new boundaries and roles and responsibilities. We need to ensure that there is absolute clarity about people’s roles and responsibilities and
then honour these arrangements.

This is not a process that can happen overnight; it takes time, a great deal of care and everyone involved needs to ensure that they have a support network because unpacking old wounds can be painful. But the good news is that it is also very cathartic to finally deal with these issues. It gives the business new energy and a feeling of excitement about the future.

If you would like to book a Conflict Strategy session contact Kate at kate@adelaideconflictmanagement.com.au

Is competition causing your team more harm than good?

Many moons ago I was managing a team where there was a bit of tension between two specific sub-groups.

All the members of the team were incredibly skilled but their jobs in servicing the clients were marginally different. One sub-group had more day to day contact with clients and so had a lot of valuable practical knowledge and often very strong networks; while the other sub-group dealt with the more pointy end of the work that required their expert knowledge in order to ensure a great outcome for the client.

Both sub-groups needed each other in order to provide the best customer service delivery outcomes for our clients; but these sub-groups seemed to jostle for the position of who was most valuable to the team.

I have always been of the view that all members of a team are equally important; but most of us have healthy egos and we sometimes want to be seen as being the most important part of our team.

As managers we need to nurture these relationships and find ways to leverage the best outcomes for all members of the team and subsequently our clients.

So I developed a simple plan to create a more united front between these two incredibly important sub-groups – I created a buddy system.

I buddied up each member of the hands on practical sub-group with a member of the expert sub-group.  The expectation was that these small buddy teams would case manage each difficult case together; they started to actively share their knowledge, they mentored each other up and down the line. They developed strong relationships and they actively sought each other for advice.  Moreover they presented their work and findings together to the rest of the group.

Some of the buddy arrangements were quite flexible; but everyone acknowledged that the two sub-groups needed to work together to ensure the best outcomes for our clients.

It worked a treat! The morale of the team lifted and there was significantly more sharing of information and informal training taking place.

Competition within a team might generate more sales or higher productivity over a short period of time; but it is not sustainable. It can lead to high levels of conflict between team members, social isolation and sometimes despair that you will never be able to beat the leaders in the group.

For example, every football team has at least two main forwards, both wanting to be recognised for the title of leading goal kicker. But what’s most important to the the team is how many goals the team kicks during a game, not who kicked them.

So if we focus on the main prize which is our shared goal, then we can meet the needs of all of the team; that is the opportunity to truly belong and to be appreciated by the team.

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Respect is almost impossible when your team is disengaged

Over the last 30 years in my role as a mediator or decision maker, one or both parties to every dispute have complained that they didn’t feel respected by the other person.

Everyone wants to be respected; to be valued and appreciated. 

However it is hardly surprising that respect is so elusive because it requires the other person or members of your team to be engaged with you, to “see and hear” you.  

Most of us spend most of our days in our world of one, our world of me. 

We spend a lot of our day thinking about our own needs and how we want to be perceived. We often think people are doing things to us; and if we are hurt we might lash out verbally or retreat into ourselves and give the person who hurt us the silent treatment.

If the members of your team are disengaged, chances are they are also emotionally disconnected from each other as well. They are worrying about their own needs; they are not worrying about anyone else. 

Respect comes from connection with other people

We all have to be able to step out of our world of one, our world of “me” to be able to respect another person.

We have to intuitively pick up the needs and values of the person; to understand how they want to be perceived and then acknowledge and communicate that back to them.

This requires us to connect with the other person. Not only do we need to acknowledge them and what is happening in their world; but to do that well, we need to get know the people in our team. We need to establish strong relationships; strong connections.

Modern day football teams are constantly looking for ways in which they can develop deeper connections between the players, the coaches and the players and the community and the players. It builds a strong team who have each other’s backs; not a team of individuals.

Free Webinar – The Three Pillars of Team Harmony

If you are interested in knowing more about how you create a more engaged and productive team, please join me for my free webinar on Tuesday 23 January at 12 pm.  Register here. 

A vulnerable manager is a powerful one

I wish my staff appreciated all my efforts

Do you feel like you’re invisible some of the time? It’s not that you are ignored – you have a constant stream of people knocking at your door. It’s just that they take you for granted. They assume that you will be there fixing problems day in, day out.

They may also act as though they are doing you a favor; that they are working hard for you. That as a manager, you have the easy job because you are not necessarily hands on.

Chances are your team don’t know how often you work late, take work home, worry about your team member’s performances and how you are going to give that feedback. That you worry about possible redundancies or how you are going to cover staff when a few people want leave at the same time.

What if you and the team shared more of your experiences?

It’s difficult to understand what’s going on for people if we don’t talk about it. A lot of managers feel that they will be seen as “weak” if they are vulnerable with their team or if they let the team know what is really going on.

However the opposite is true. A manager who shares with his or her team is modelling behaviour that will be positive for the whole team. As they say – there is no “I” in team. If you want your staff to be part of a powerful united team – then you need to act as a team. You need to know what unites you; you need to talk about how you’re traveling, the threats, the successes, pretty much everything.

The number one issue that comes up with every team I work with is “respect”. People feel respected when they feel included, consulted, engaged. When there is communication about the important matters. They don’t want to feel protected; they don’t want to be kept in the dark.

Successful teams work as a team. They share their experiences. They work through problems and they celebrate successes. They have a leader and the leader is important – but the role of the leader is to bring the best out of everyone – not to make all of the decisions.

Use your regular team meetings as a time when you share what’s going on. The more vulnerable you are, the greater will be your connection with your team. They will love you for it and then you will start to feel their appreciation.

Do you spend your time putting out fires?

Do you often take work home at night or go in on a Sunday just so you can get some uninterrupted time to get work done?

 

Is much of your day spent with your staff lining up at your door to complain about someone else in the team?

 

Have you run out of ideas as to how to get the team to work better together?

 

Maybe you need a fresh set of eyes to help you see the trees from the forest. Importantly, you may need help setting boundaries with your team. If the boundaries are fuzzy, chances are your team will push against them constantly – some inappropriate behaviours may end up being tolerated and this will effect the level of trust in the team.

 

Positive psychology tells us that people perform best when they are trusted to do what they are good at doing. When the work aligns with their potential and their personal values. People also work best when they feel valued by their employer and when they are consulted and included in decision making processes. But most importantly positive psychology tells us that people perform best when they feel safe; because if they feel safe they will:

  • Trust that management is acting in the organisations’ best interest and be more trusting of decisions made
  • Deal with issues immediately without fear of retribution
  • Be more innovative because they will trust the team not to “steal” their ideas
  • They will keep their team and management in the loop about important issues that might impact on the performance of their team (ie health issues, family issues, planned leave etc)
  • They will be respectful of processes and will be better able to manage change
  • Be more tolerant of short term pain for long term gain (e.g. relocating offices during renovations, accommodating work experience students, working longer hours during an accreditation process, etc).
  • Take less unplanned leave
  • Be more supportive of other people’s success because they do not feel that this jeopardises their own employment

 

Powernoodle is powerful stakeholder engagement software that uses the power of anonymity to engage and build trust in teams. It provides teams with the opportunity to provide genuine feedback and give management a deeper understanding of the issues at hand. It can also be used to determine priorities for the team and create a safe environment to work through difficult issues.

 

As a licensed Powernoodle Consultant, I can work with you and your team to create a safe and dynamic working environment.

 

Spend your day doing what you were employed to do instead of constantly putting out fires.

Feel like you’re losing control of your team?

It’s 8 pm on a Tuesday night and Mandy has finally got the kids to bed, done the dishes and put the rubbish out. She’s back at her computer finally getting that work finished that she didn’t get to today.

What a crap day! She didn’t stop. One by one her team members had all come in to see her to discuss “that” incident from yesterday.  She just couldn’t get anything done.

And now she is exhausted. She has spent the day putting out fires; trying to stop the inevitable rumours that Alex is going to leave after the way he had been treated by Ben.  She tries to concentrate on her work; but she is struggling.  She has seen an email from her boss in her inbox that she hasn’t opened yet but the subject line is “Ben”. She thinks it best to leave this email until tomorrow morning or she won’t be able to sleep.

The team want to know what she is going to do about Ben; how can he be allowed to speak to Alex (or anyone) like that. Everyone saw it coming. Ben is such a bully; everyone knows it. But, despite all their whinging, no-one in the team will tell Ben that there is an issue. To make matters worse, Theo, her ever reliable PA, was going to put in a formal complaint but then withdrew it because he doesn’t want Ben to treat him like he treats Alex.

Shit!  She can’t pretend it didn’t happen. This time Ben went too far. She told him Alex was struggling and still he went there. Ugh!! Yet Ben can be so funny and clever; Mandy can see that he doesn’t mean to rub people up the wrong way.  

Mandy’s mind wanders… if Alex leaves then she might be able to save some money in her budget and finally get ahead… but… that probably won’t work.

What does she say to Alex if he comes into work tomorrow? What if he calls the union?  She’s tried everything to get Ben and Alex to get on; to communicate better. What if…? Maybe she could look for a transfer; maybe she’s not cut out to be a team leader.

Chances of Mandy getting some sleep tonight are zip!

Do you need a fresh pair of eyes to help you work through team issues? Do you need some guidance on how to deal with incivility or abrasive behaviour amongst your team? Call Kate at Adelaide Conflict Management on 0409 554 611.

 

 

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Everyday Grief: How endings can cause conflict in the workplace

Warning: there are a couple of Crabb and Sales “clang” name-dropping moments in this blog.

In July 2008, my son Tom travelled for 7 weeks all around the Flinders Ranges, filming Last Ride, his first feature film. He had a lead role and he was the only child on set. Tom was very fortunate to have his big sister, Lucy, on set to chaperone him. Last Ride had a small (read lean) cast and crew and they were a tight bunch. They all worked very hard for seven weeks straight and Tom had an absolute ball. This experience, to this day, would be one of the highlights of his life (and ours).

However the wheels started to fall off for Tom in the last week of filming. He was having a great time, he loved the people he was working with, his team, and he knew it was all about to come to an end. He was overwhelmed with emotions and he started to act out. At times he was moody and aggressive; other times he would be quite sad and needy. Tom was a 10 year old dealing with big emotions; he was grieving.

They filmed the last scene of the shoot at the skateboard ramp at Port Gawler. The cast and crew had worked hard all day filming the final scenes at various locations and it was very late when they filmed that last scene. We were all there huddled around the action in the car – a scene where Tom and his stage dad, Hugo Weaving (clang), were preparing to go to sleep in their car. Glendyn Ivin (clang), the director, got them to film the scene a couple more times than was probably necessary. No-one wanted the experience to end.

But then he called out “Cut. That’s a wrap” and there was cheering and hugging and tears and sparklers and celebrations. It was a hugely emotional experience for everyone but particularly for us. This had been an extraordinarily positive and rewarding experience not only for Tom but for the whole family.

Tom said his goodbyes. He hugged and kissed everyone and finally we took him home.

It was hard; he had to adapt to being an ordinary kid again. He had to go back to school. To do chores and homework. It took a few weeks before he was “back to normal”.  

During this time we were (in the main) understanding and tolerant of Tom’s sometimes moody behaviour. We had lots of hugs and a few tears, we spent a lot of time on the couch, just being with him. We looked after him and were there for him. Letting him feel his feelings in a safe environment.

Grief is a normal part of life. We can’t have the ups without some downs.  As a family that has a lot to do with the arts, we have had to deal with lots of ups and downs. It is a normal part of a performing artist’s life. Every show must end and the set is bumped out as soon as that last curtain call is over; every film director calls “That’s a wrap”.  It is the same in team sports. Football teams change every year; no two premiership teams are exactly the same.  The experience of working on a special project, of creating a new tool or technology, of building something special must eventually come to an end. The more special, the more enjoyable the experience, the more there is to grieve.  It’s not bad or wrong. It just is. We miss the experience, we miss the camaraderie, the joy and thrill of the moment. We will never have that exact experience again with those people.

What do we do when someone we know is grieving the loss of a family member or someone close to them? We are kind to them, we give them time out, we let them be in the moment, we take them meals, we take care of them.

However we are often less caring when the grief is about the letting go of an experience, or a team or of a fellow worker. We expect people to just get on with life, the job; to move on.

But grief is grief and we need to respect it. We need to acknowledge it and feel it and talk about it.  We need to understand that people are sometimes going to act out, behave badly, be rude, act selfishly. We need to be there for people and not take any inappropriate behaviour personally. It’s not about us; it’s about them feeling overwhelmed by their feelings.

There will be a lot of grief in a workplace where teams come to an abrupt end due to retrenchment or the end of a great project. School teachers have to say goodbye to their favourite students at the end of every year. Inspirational leaders retire and the culture of a workplace can change dramatically.

Some people’s behaviour when dealing with grief will be inappropriate or difficult; and it can easily lead to conflict.  The mood of a workplace can suddenly feel “toxic” due to high levels of stress. Some staff members may become more self absorbed and demanding. It can be a tough time.

This is when leaders need to demonstrate generosity and caring for everyone in their team. For teams to be more tolerant and understanding of their fellow team members. For those people in leadership roles to be their best and most generous selves. It will be difficult at times; but the consequences of not being kind and generous at this time will aggravate the stress levels of those most at risk.

PS: Tom is OK. He went on to make other films and he’s now studying drama at University.

Will you regret tolerating that behaviour?

What behaviours do you tolerate in your workplace?

Frank is a team leader of a team of ten people. He’s known for being quite grumpy and sarcastic.  He can be quick to criticise but deep down he has a heart of gold.

Tony joins the team. He really struggles with Frank’s management style. He eventually complains to Frank’s manager but is told “That’s just Frank. He’s always been like that. Don’t take it personally”.

Tony tries to not let Frank’s comments get to him; but he is struggling. He is having trouble sleeping and is feeling anxious during the day. He starts making mistakes in his work because he is struggling to concentrate. His productivity has reduced dramatically. Some days he just doesn’t want to come to work; some days he doesn’t get to work.

Then one day Frank is particularly rude to Tony about something pretty minor. Tony decides that he can’t go on like this. He makes a formal complaint about Frank’s behaviour. Tony feels management drag the chain in dealing with the matter and he eventually goes out on stress leave. 

What is the cost to that organisation of not addressing Frank’s behaviour? What is the cost to the organisation of the relatively high turnover of staff in Frank’s team? What is the cost to the organisation with Tony going out on stress leave?

And chances are Frank doesn’t recognize that there is a problem because no-one has ever told him that there is. He just thinks that he is firm but fair. He is not aware of how his grumpy approach is intimidating to some of his staff; no-one has ever had the courage to tell him about how he is perceived by his team.

What behaviours are you tolerating in your organisation and how are they affecting your bottom line?

Do you need help managing some difficult personalities in your organisation?

The number one reason why managers don’t deal with conflict in the workplace – until they absolutely have to

I often come across workplaces where they urgently need help to deal with a workplace conflict because the situation has become untenable. But when I start asking questions about when the issues first started to be a problem, I am sheepishly told, 2 years ago, 10 years ago – and once I was told 30 years ago!

An organisation will side-step around the issues that are causing members of their team a significant amount of grief, lost productivity and sometimes result in staff turnover.

Then suddenly something happens, something big, something that cannot be ignored and then this problem that has been hanging over everyone’s head for years, can no longer be ignored and there is an urgent need to resolve it.

So why do we delay resolving these issues immediately; why do we cause ourselves extended periods of pain? Why do we let an entire team suffer, so we can protect one person who is “high conflict” or “difficult”. Why do we tolerate inappropriate language, behaviour or performance for years on end?

The reason we don’t deal with conflict in the workplace is because we don’t want (or sometimes even know how) to start that difficult conversation. We don’t know where it will go and we don’t want to open a can of worms. We don’t trust ourselves to do it well and we don’t want to appear to be sitting in judgment of other people. So we sit on the issue and hope and pray that the “difficult” person will work it out, read the body language of the other staff, and inherently know that they are the problem and as a result terminate their own employment.

The reality is that many “high conflict” or “difficult” people have little awareness of how their behaviour and actions might be impacting on others and often no-one tells them. They may be living with a mental illness, they may have low self esteem and poor self awareness. They may not be able to read the non-verbal cues or people’s body language.  In my experience these “difficult” people are often horrified when they find out that their behaviour is having an negative impact on a workplace and their level of shame is exacerbated because the problem has gone on for years and no-one told them.

It’s not fair on any of your staff not to deal with conflict when it arises. You can’t hide problems by pretending that they are not there.

At ACM we specialise in dealing with “difficult or high conflict” people. We can help you start that conversation. We can provide a safe space for a difficult conversation. To find out more about how we can help your workplace, call Kate on 0409 554 611.