Acas has just launched its Early conciliation service to support organisations to resolve conflict at work before it escalates to a tribunal. It is a laudable step in trying to prevent the stressful experience of tribunal action.
But much more needs to be done by organisations themselves to tackle workplace conflict earlier.
We worked recently with a department to help improve teamworking. The manager who was new to the team had spotted signs that things were not right. There was no outright conflict, no raised voices or even obvious dissent between team members. But morale was low and communication strained and as a result, work on projects and tasks was stalling.
What was feeding this, were those subtle, “low level” behaviours, which in isolation probably have limited impact, but over a sustained period of time become wearing and undermining. There was, for example, quite a lot of rolling of the eyes when one particular person made a comment, another person had made a mistake with a client a few months earlier and a joke was still being made of it very publically and there was some pretty robust “banter,” which quite often crossed the line. Much of this behaviour was down to 2 particularly strong personalities in the team – and they had by all accounts been behaving this way for months.
No wonder that the rest of the team were finding it draining. Some had reacted by joining in – fuelling the disrespectful culture which had started to develop – and some “retreated” and coped by trying to limit the contact they had with the main perpetrator. Many wanted to just say “give it a rest” but couldn’t find a way to do that without being labelled a killjoy.
These are the kind of situations which are often not addressed. And yet they grind people down, they wear away at confidence and self-esteem and they stop people talking to each other. And that affects the team’s performance on so many levels.
This scenario had a happy ending, thanks to the new manager being brave enough to address it. We worked with him to run a session with the team where they discussed what team working really meant to them all and agreed examples of what they saw as respectful co-working.
He also addressed specific inappropriate behaviours with the two main “culprits” - who when it came down to it, really hadn’t stopped to think about the effect their behaviour was having, so once it was talked through there was a significant change.
If you recognise any of the examples here, make a commitment today to do something about it. Your team will all thank you for it.
Stella Chandler and I founded Focal Point on a shared belief that a training course run in isolation doesn't work. We passionately believe there must be support both before and after the training or coaching session itself for it to make a difference. When I am not facilitating sessions with clients or looking at ways to grow the Focal Point business, you will find me in a calming yoga class...