Originally published as The Cause, Cost and Countermeasure to Conflict in an Organization in The Project Management Times
By Jon Isaacson
If you have dysfunction in your team, the cost may be higher than you want to admit but the cure may also be closer than you realize.
Frustration in the workplace, does such a thing exist? In a recent article in Forbes magazine, researchers discussed the primary sources of disgruntlement within organizations. According to the study, most employees noted that they were frustrated by personality differences and incompetence in their co-workers. This is not news to anyone who has worked in an organizational setting, one human plus one human will eventually equal conflict. The potential for conflict, as well as the intensity and duration, are compounded by the number of humans added to the equation. More people, more problems. What is interesting about the Forbes article is that upon further investigation there was an underlying source which contributed to the environment of dysfunction,
“In fact, teams having conflict had much higher levels of ambiguity in three categories of work: their team’s goals, roles, and procedures. So, while it is very human to assign personal motive and blame in times of trouble, there isn’t really anything personal about the core of workplace conflict. If you back up and look at the facts, a lack of clarity is what’s truly to blame.” (Wakeman, 2015)
The need for clarity is foundational to functionality and trust within an organization. Where there is a lack of clarity, there will be conflict. Office drama is costly, CPP Inc. performed a study in 2008 which discovered that employees in the United States spent 2.8 hours per week dealing with conflict which CPP estimated as costing over $359 billion in paid hours or the equivalent of 385 million working days (Lawler, 2010). Every business understands the need to watch the bottom line, so why are mangers unwilling to recognize the high cost of conflict? Think of it, if every employee in your office could increase engagement and efficiency by 7% by only changing one element, wouldn’t that be something a wise leader would be more intentional about?
Recognize the cost of inaction. Managers spend much of their time putting out fires, and yet our discussion to this point has demonstrated that the cure for dysfunction may be closer that you think. By understanding the cost of conflict, we recognize the value of investing in practices that will help our organization to identify and address these hot beds of discordance within our teams.
Realize the need to eliminate the blame game. When employees focus on blaming each other, too often managers are happy to allow them to target their ire upon each other rather than dealing with the core of these issues which creates a negatively recurring cycle. As noted by the author in a prior article - how leaders respond to conflicts can either reinforce cultural values that strengthen the team, or they can respond in ways that destroy morale (Isaacson, 2016).
Reduce conflict by creating clarity. If the research from Wakeman and her team as outlined in Forbes is accurate, then leaders can make a significant reduction in interpersonal conflict by being more intentional about organizational clarity. As a leader, you can alleviate friction between team members by being more clear about team goals, roles, and procedures as quoted above.
If we can sense the frustration in the organization and we can calculate the deep costs, we should be proactive in working towards long-term solutions. Often inaction is caused by an inability to identify the causes or formulate an effective plan, but now that these have been brought to light the only question left is whether we will be intentional about getting into the mix to make the magic happen. There are no shortcuts when working with interpersonal dynamics but progress is attainable through the countermeasures for the conflict we have discussed.
Wakeman, Cy (2015, June 22) The number 1 source of workplace conflict, and how to avoid it. Forbes. Retrieved fromhttp://www.forbes.com/sites/cywakeman/2015/06/22/the-1-source-of-workplace-conflict-and-how-to-avoid-it/#32a27f89126e
Lawler, Jennifer (2010, June 21) The real cost of workplace conflict. Entrepreneur. Retrieved fromhttps://www.entrepreneur.com/article/207196
Isaacson, Jon (2016, July 11) Eliminating blame in your organization. Retrieved from http://izvents.weebly.com/words/eliminating-blame-in-your-organization
Originally published as Shared Spaces: Shaking Up The Restoration In-Office Experience
February 24, 2016 by Restoration & Remediation Magazine (R&R)
By Jon Isaacson
Could restoration companies benefit from a non-traditional work space?
I started my career in property restoration in a shared office with myself, my manager and space designated for our crew to meet and interact. At most places I have worked since, the more normative office is laid out in designated segments of isolation. While I don't dismiss the value of personal space and enjoy my privacy as much as anyone, I have found the value of shared spaced and have worked to create open work space in every team that I have supervised.
Shared Space Equals Shared Experiences
When you share an office, you can feel the pulse of the team. You hear your team, even when you are not conversing with them directly, you are hearing their interactions. While there are times when the noise level has to be managed, when you hire people who are respectful they will likely already understand the dynamics of time and place in an open space.
For our teams the benefits of a communal office within our department has far outweighed the perceived negatives. Imposing an open office on people who are not ready for it is a recipe for disaster. Transitioning to a shared space is made much more seamless when you have people who enjoy working together and/or you hire people who understand the culture. Implementing an open office is not of any benefit if it does not reflect your culture or add value to your team.
Open Space Equals Open Communication
Creating a shared space has allowed us to more readily share information at all levels of our department. Having our crew come into our office in the morning creates a natural opportunity to discuss the day's assignments. When the crew returns in the evening, we can debrief and discuss needs for the following day.
These organic connection points throughout the day have increased our interactions at professional and personal levels. Combining our open space with making our workloads visible has helped us to elevate our clarity across our team interactions.
Your office is your second home. Arguably, you spend more time in your work space with your work peeps than with your actual family, so making it an enjoyable and functional environment should be a priority.
When drafting the plan for your work space - whether open, traditional or some other system with a fancy name - think about the following:
For our department, we have hired people who bring value to the team, we have been protective of the culture that we have developed and we have enjoyed the benefits of a shared work space.
Originally published as How To Lead With Empathy
May 4, 2017 by About Leaders
By Jon Isaacson
In all of the various words expended on business, entrepreneurship, and leadership, there are few that discuss the role of empathy as a key to the development of emotional intelligence.
Feelings are a component of life. But they are often treated as though they have no place in a professional organization and are of no concern for the successful leader. The truth is that most people in leadership positions make decisions based on feelings, whether they are willing to admit that or not.
A recent study entitled Only Human conducted by Gyro surveyed 720 senior business executives and noted that, “A majority (61%) of executives agree that when making decisions, human insights must precede hard analytics.” Life is theater, business is full of drama, and people are sensitive.
So how do modern leaders elevate their emotional intelligence to address these realities in an organizational environment, especially if they are working to flatten out the organizational chart? Empathy is defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Empathy is what separates emotionally intelligent leaders from managerial programmed robots who are following a passionless script.
Consideration and Engagement
Consider the engagement equity in the ability to understand what someone is feeling, to comprehend the perspective of another human and engage with them, whether you agree or disagree with their conclusions. Consideration for others’ feelings, compassion for their trials as humans, and caring when addressing sensitive issues at work are essential soft skills that can elevate a leader to inspire others to buy-in to the organizational vision. We know in principle that empathy is a form of understanding. So we should understand what empathy is as well as what it isn’t.
What is Empathy?
Empathy is listening to others, attempting to see things from their perspective, and making leadership decisions based upon a fuller engagement with team members who can help in accomplishing the mission. Empathy is a skill that must be developed as an essential component in the tool belt of emotional intelligence. This can assist a leader to more successfully work through periods of resistance while working with other individuals.
Empathy is not capitulation. Listening and understanding does not mean that a leader changes course simply because there are individual(s) who respond negatively to directions and changes within the organization. Empathy is not appeasement. Acquiring perspective does not mean that a leader will seek the path of least resistance by sacrificing long-term success for short-term peace acquired by cowering to demands.
Employees, co-workers and business partners come in all emotional shapes, sizes and shades of complexity. Developing leadership soft skills and emotional intelligence is a process that requires consistent intentionality, which often includes making a fair share of mistakes.
The beautiful side to humanizing the organizational process is that where empathy is practiced and modeled by leadership, it is more likely to be reflected in the interactions throughout the team. When leaders listen, empathize, and demonstrate a hunger to ever improve themselves, they tend to attract team members with the same values who will assist them to build an organization of vision.
As noted, empathy does not make a leader a door mat whom capitulates to negative forces. Conflict resolution by temporary appeasement in the face of resistance is the opposite of emotional intelligence.
Leaders who listen so that they can understand their teams will unlock the resources that may be hiding within their organization that would otherwise remain hidden under the misguided actions of cut and paste management principles.
Step out of your comfort zone, make some smart mistakes, build a thriving team and be the leader that your team deserves. If you are resistant to change as well as growing as a leader, you will continue to attract and manage the team that you deserve.
Do you ever ask yourself, “What do those we are employing (or seeking) want?”
Option 1 – Your answer is no. You don’t ask this question and/or you think it is a stupid question. You’ve got it figured out, so you should probably skip this article. It’s poorly written anyways.
Option 2 – Your answer is yes. You ask this question and/or you think it is a relevant one. We agree. So we want to know what you have come up with? Please share what you and your team have discovered.
Those in group 1 and group 2 have this in common, they are both tired of business catch phrases such as “employee engagement” in so far as there is a lot of talk but not a lot of help. Investing in people comes at a cost. Everyone who has invested in some aspect of employee development has painful stories of those they invested in only to have them lose the fire, take their fire to a competitor or who literally set fire to the organization. For the later you can think of Milton’s character in the cinematic masterpiece Office Space. Yet, it would be important to note that the management team depicted in that film did not invest very intentionally in that unique individual. Thankfully, there are also those stories that are still unfolding of individuals whom we have invested in who are developing or even active as leaders who are themselves investing in others. Those are the stories we have to treasure as we continue to learn from our past, present and future experience - whether positive or negative.
We can rephrase the opening question this way, how do we connect in such a way that we are able to facilitate collaboration within the organization? Connecting and collaborating are the key components to finding ways to conquer. What can we do to make employee engagement something tangible in our recruiting, our development and our retention of quality team members? In management there is an inescapable truth that we will receive the team that we deserve (a topic we addressed in our article Leading With Empathy that was published in About Leaders). Let that settle in for a minute. If we go back to Office Space, poor leadership stemming from a few of our key factors, such as no organizational clarity, low consistency and zero accountability, that iconic detached leader had the team he deserved. Why should it matter what our lowly employees want and why would we take the time to care?
Cue the dangling carrot and our answer is profitability. Wait. Are we saying that investing in creating an environment that will increase employee happiness (fancy word = engagement) may also lead to better profitability? No. We aren’t saying that at all but this really smart and successful person is - Former CEO of Xerox, Anne Mucahy speaks to the importance of engagement, “Employees who believe that management is concerned about them as a whole person – not just an employee – are more productive, more satisfied, more fulfilled. Satisfied employees mean satisfied customers, which leads to profitability.” If we reverse this thread, we start with profitability, which all organizations know is key to survival. Profitability comes from satisfied customers which comes from satisfied employees which comes from where?
Call it what you want, but it’s employee engagement. The first key to successful employee engagement is having a desire to connect in a meaningful way. If you have no perspective or desire to connect, you won’t. The next step is about as simple and challenging as the first, being consistent about being intentional to connect with the individuals as well as the whole of your team. These two points are simple enough to point out, but if you jump in those trenches they are complex. If you fail, you are in good company. If you learn from failure and success and share your experiences with others who are doing the same (we call that collaboration), you may have a fighting chance.
It’s a start.
Jon Isaacson. Green belt in the puzzle art of business. Helping people clarify their vision, optimize productivity & follow through w/ creative solutions #MTWSL
All Accountability Advice Analysis Authenticity Awkward Best Practices Blame Branding Business Business Solutions Care Career Character Claims Clarity Coaching Collaboration Commitment Communication Community Conflict Conflict Resolution Connect Connection Consistency Construction Controversy Creative Creative Solutions Criminal-justice Culture Culuture Customer Service Delusion Development Discipline Disgruntled Disruption Do-good Dysfunction Education Emotional Intelligence Empathy Employee Development Employee Engagement Endurance Engagement Entrepreneur Environment Events Example Experiments Failure Family Fear Feedback Fitness Food Fun Funny Goals Good Cause Growth Happiness Health Hiring Humanity Incentives Innovation Inspiration Insurance Intelligence Inter Interview Introspective Investing Issues Leadership Listening Loyalty Management Marketing Mentorship Millennials Momentum Money Motivation Music Networking Non Profit Optimization Organization Parenting Podcast Preparation Presentation Prioritization Process Improvement Production Profitability Project Management Promotion Property Restoration Publication Published Quality Racism Relationships Respect Review Risk Scheduling Service Social-media Society Speaking Structure Success Symptoms Systems Team Building Training Transparency Trauma Trust Truth Unity Values Video Vision Volunteer Website Youth Sports