How to solve staff problems within your workforce

Valerie Morton offers advice on how to manage office tensions without impacting work-flow

Valerie Morton
Valerie Morton

Q: Two members of my senior management team don't get on, but I can't afford to lose either of them. What can I do?

A: Gosh, things must be bad if you are contemplating one of them having to go. So I assume that the answer to the first question I would usually ask in this situation - does it matter? - is a definite "yes". Not everyone has the lucky attribute of being able to get on well with anyone they come across, but it becomes a problem only if it is affecting work performance or having a destructive effect on the team or colleagues. Interestingly, it can often be just as much of a problem if two team members are best buddies and upset the balance of the whole team.

Before looking at solutions, the first stage in addressing an issue such as yours is to ask "why?"

Do these two people simply not like each other? Do they both have their sights on the same promotion? Has there been some bust-up between them in their personal lives? Are their working styles so different that it leads to clashes? Is it a question of jealousy?

Of course, the most difficult thing can be finding out the answers. Asking the individuals formally and directly could bring defensiveness or insecurity. However, a lighter touch such as a comment during a one-to-one meeting might be the opening someone needs to get things off their chest.

The information that you glean will affect the action you take. On one level, a reminder that personal issues should not be brought into the workplace might suffice. On another, it is an opportunity to put in place a team-building strategy that includes using one of the many tools available to examine 'types', behaviour styles or team roles.

I'm a fan of British researcher Meredith Belbin because his theories not only help team members to understand how they and their colleagues 'tick', but also show how valuable those different ways of working are when building a good team. Using a facilitator for this work is vital for managing sensitive issues.

Back to my first point. People can work effectively together even if they don't get on. Just because one person chooses not to go to the pub with the rest of the team does not necessarily mean the team is not functioning.

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Valerie Morton is a trainer, fundraiser and consultant

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