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 Lessons from Noah on Vision and Endurance, February 3, 2017 in The Daily Positive.
By Jon Isaacson
Whether you believe the account of Noah and his giant wooden boat is a historical record or just a nice story, the general narrative is one that most people, including entrepreneurs and business leaders, are familiar. There is a catastrophic flood on the horizon, and Noah is told by God to build an ark.
[caption id="attachment_910" align="alignleft" width="551"] Need an ark? I Noah a guy...[/caption]Our main character heeds the booming voice of heaven and, in doing so, saves himself, his family, and the representatives of the animal kingdom that will repopulate the land after the flood cleanses the earth. The story told in the Old Testament chapters of Genesis 6-9 continues to receive some public acclaim with the recent opening of the life-sized Ark Encounter in Kentucky as well as many lesser-known attractions such as the Noah’s Ark Biblical History Museum in Winston, Oregon.
The story of Noah and the flood has been retold through several Hollywood iterations both in the comedic form with Steve Carell in the reluctant modern-day version in Evan Almighty as well as in the very dramatic form with Russell Crowe at the helm of the massive floating wood structure in the picture titled "Noah".
In our modern society fear is not hard to find, whether it’s a new calendar year, the opening of a financial quarter, or even an average day on social media, countless pundits proclaim the next catastrophe that will cripple our global economies.
If there is trouble on the horizon, perhaps we can learn something from the archetype of a man who was calm under pressure and followed through with his convictions to create a positive legacy with a global reach. Individuals and scientific groups continue to search for the physical location and remnants of the wooden structure, perhaps in part searching for confirmation that we can survive the worst of what nature can throw at us.
The Noah narrative may prove helpful to the aspiring entrepreneur as well as the modern leader navigating the troubled waters of managing with vision, maintaining the elusive work-life balance and living a life of purpose. What lessons might we learn from Noah as a visionary leader and innovator?
1. Your work should be motivated by vision.
Your work should be motivated by a vision so that you can work tirelessly in the face of opposition. If you can see further down the road than most entrepreneurs, people will likely think your efforts are crazy. If people think you are crazy, they are either right, or you may be moving in the right direction!
Most entrepreneurial success stories include accounts of all the detractors who stood on the sidelines mocking the entrepreneur's efforts. Star athletes are often motivated by someone in their past who didn’t think they were good enough. A chip on the shoulder seems to be a consistent motivator for success in the lives of those who are visionaries and game changers.
Noah was building the biggest boat known to man during a period of drought, at the time there was nothing more nonsensical than the work of Noah and his family. Pounding nails day after day can become a menial task, but when those nails bring an individual closer to his goal, the mechanics become a work of art, the thud of the hammer a soundtrack, and the small evidence of progress perpetuates the effort forward.
“VISION WITHOUT ACTION IS MERELY A DREAM. ACTION WITHOUT VISION JUST PASSES THE TIME. VISION WITH ACTION CAN CHANGE THE WORLD.” – JOEL A. BARKER
2. Your work should include, or at least not exclude, your family.
While Millennials get a bad rap for “not being motivated,” what many fail to understand is that Generation X and Y grew up with the consequences of a society putting work above all else. What happens when the dust settles on a career, and the family has played second fiddle? The employee who was loyal to his company but no longer serves a purpose has neither company nor family in the end. Good organizations and intelligent employees understand that their personal, family, and professional lives all need investments of time to thrive.
While many claim to work themselves for the good of their family, the one resource that none of us can get back is time. Noah included his family in his work, whether that was willing labor or not, in the end, the work kept them alive and literally brought them together. Time is limited, so it must be spent with purpose.
“THERE'S NO SUCH THING AS WORK-LIFE BALANCE. THERE ARE WORK-LIFE CHOICES, AND YOU MAKE THEM, AND THEY HAVE CONSEQUENCES.” – JACK WELCH
3. Your work should have a global as well as local impact.
Seek to do as much good as possible. Noah had a long term vision with an immediate sense of the work ethic required to reach his providential goal. Noah shared his vision, invited others to join in his game-changing work, and made a public effort to endure through the days, months, and years with no evidence that he was right. You could say Noah was globally minded in his overall vision while maintaining a heart for the local culture.
Noah’s family were the only ones to enter the safety of the Ark, not because Noah excluded them or hid his work but because no one wanted to join him. Like the story, The Little Red Hen, no one wanted to pound the nails to do the work of preparation, but they sure wanted to taste the pie when the work was complete and proved to be necessary. Every decision we make has consequences. Whether our work will make a positive impact is often determined by an intentional use of the time and resources we have available to us.
“IN EVERY DAY, THERE ARE 1,440 MINUTES. THAT MEANS WE HAVE 1,440 DAILY OPPORTUNITIES TO MAKE A POSITIVE IMPACT.” – LES BROWN
If you recall in the modern day depiction of the Noah story, Evan Baxter/Noah (Steve Carrell), has an interaction with God (Morgan Freeman), wherein God shares the anagram of the Ark. God asks Evan, “How do we change the world?” Evan responds, “One single act of random kindness at a time.” To which God starts writing A-R-K on the ground with a stick and remarks, “One Act of Random Kindness.”
Live your life with vision, spend your energy on purpose, and be intentional about the impact you make with the resources you have. Genesis ends the story with God placing a rainbow in the sky to remind himself and Noah that he will never destroy the earth by flood again. Noah has a symbol that reminds him of what he has endured, reminds him of his present opportunity and reminds him that whatever may come, he is a survivor. In a world of chaos with rumors of catastrophe and messages of fear, notice the rainbow breaking through the clouds after a storm.
Originally published September 5, 2017 on The Daily Positive as How to identify the right mentor by Jon Isaacson.
Successful professionals understand the importance of learning the hard skills of their chosen craft. But when it comes to management skills, the value of mentorship is often forgotten. Mentoring is a relationship of purpose wherein Professional A enlists Professional B to assist in his personal and/or professional development. Mentorship is broad and unique to the various industries and stages of professional development.
If mentorship were an actual ship, what would that sea craft look like and how can individuals apply this to their search for the right mentor?
Do you need a tugboat?
The tugboat maneuvers vessels by pushing or pulling them. What are the features that the mentee is looking for? The mentee needs someone strong, behind the scenes, understated, and always reliable. A tugboat mentor proves that not all mentors look the same or fit the archetype of the mentorship romance narratives. A mentor who serves like a tug boat will assist those vessels that are unable to propel themselves, whether temporarily due to being disabled by damage or as an assistant for those vessels that are in narrow waters and need assistance with navigation while in a tight spot.
“My mentor said, ‘Let’s go do it,’ not ‘You go do it.’ How powerful when someone says, ‘Let’s!’” — Jim Rohn
Mentors who specialize in categories of business or management skills can be a vital boost to your advancement as professional. A tugboat relationship may be short in duration or enlisted only when certain circumstances require an extra push. Tugboat mentors are available on call or at scheduled intervals, but they know the boundaries of how engaged to be to assist the mentee in building his own success. Tugboat mentorships are often the least expensive, least involved, and serve for specific durations.
Here are some characteristics to assist in the search of a tugboat mentor: look for quiet strength, don’t overlook professionals who have experience but may not fit preconceived notions, confront whether your current needs are to be pushed or pulled.
Do you need a freighter?
Cargo ships are designed to carry heavy loads from point A to point B. Freighters are equipped for types of cargo, course parameters, and journey duration. The mentee needs someone who can assist with carrying a current project through to its vision destination. Mentors who serve in a cargo capacity may have more than one mentee who they are working with; they may not provide the highest level of individualized care, but they will help carry the process through to completion.
Freighter may be the most common mentorship scenario, as most professionals don’t seek out this level of transparency or assistance until they are faced with an opportunity that is too heavy, too complicated, or stretches them further than they have traveled in their career.
“Colleagues are a wonderful thing – but mentors, that’s where the real work gets done.” — Junot Diaz
Driven people understand that there are mental road blocks on the way to professional development. Seeking the support of another professional to assist in navigation may be the key to breaking through. A freighter relationship may be a longer duration than the tugboat mentor and yet more utilitarian as the parameters of the interaction are tied to objectives. Mentees who have a clearer understanding of what they need are better able to map out and communicate their needs in an agreement between both mentorship parties.
Here are some characteristics to assist in the search of a freighter mentor: try to determine whether your current need is load specific to a type of heavy burden, experiential in nature to a path that must be traveled, or mission-centric.
Do you need an aircraft carrier?
Aircraft carriers are some of the most expensive ships in the sea, but they are also fitted with the best in technology for intelligence, offense, and defense. As a mentee who is in need of vision, organization, equipment, and support, the aircraft carrier can provide it all, including the ability to send resources to salvage if the mission has crashed and burned. Mentors who work in an aircraft carrier capacity may be utilitarian in providing insights into vision charting, course preparation, or operational assistance, or they may be ordered to intercede in a specific mission.
“One of the greatest values of mentors is the ability to see ahead what others cannot see and to help them navigate a course to their destination.” — John C. Maxwell
As an aspiring professional, it is important to keep yourself personally and professionally challenged. The value of this can be multiplied by identifying a suitable mentor who will assist you to navigate the most complex systems of interpersonal relationships within leadership roles. The mentee who understands her needs and has the resources can call upon an aircraft carrier mentor to provide mission assistance, whereas the mentee who lacks clarity may call upon the intelligence and support capacities of her carrier mentor.
Here are some characteristics to assist in the search of a carrier mentor: know thyself, and understand where you are and where you are going. With a firm sense of those two items, identifying a mentor who has mastered the skills you are working on will be much more evident.
Professional athletes have coaches and trainers even though they are at the very height of their professional skills, earning, and influence. Seeking the assistance of someone who can assist you to tug, carry, or chart your way through the murky waters of personal development can be a very positive and fulfilling addition to your professional adventure.
You cannot have unity without trust. You cannot have trust without truth. Define, disciple and discipline around your core values.
Not that long ago I was speaking with a person in a position of leadership (PIAPOL) and we were discussing why a local team was struggling with unity. I asked this tenured PIAPOL if they understood the foundation of unity within a team. My friend looked at me quizzically and stated that they did not.
I shared that there is no unity without trust. My friend agreed, “That’s true you need trust if people are going to work together.”
We expanded our conversation by asking, where does trust come from? Similar response to my prior question so we discussed that the basis of trust is being able to rely on you to do what you say.
For example, if you tell me that you are going to sweep the floor, I should be able to trust that you are going to be able to sweep the floor. If you sweep the floor, as you said you would, I will continue to trust you and will build trust with you. If you do not sweep the floor, as you said you would, I will question whether I can trust you. There may be a good reason why you didn’t sweep the floor, but if you did not communicate with me or follow through with what you said you would do at the next time you are able to do so, I will question whether I can trust you and we will struggle to build trust.
Sweeping the floor is a simple task, but it isn’t as much about the action itself but it’s connection to what you said you would do. It’s about truth.
Many organizations want their people to get along and like each other, this is a Utopian work place, but it isn’t always achievable as there are many factors that lead to those conditions – some of which leaders, organizations and employees have control over and many which they do not. Respect on the other hand is something that is achievable, is a basic expectation that an organization can train and discipline for and can be a catalyst for successful collaboration. I don’t have to like you to respect you but I do have to respect you in order to work with you in a sustainable fashion.
Odds are if you work in a manner that is respectful, there is a strong likelihood that we can grow to like each other around that foundation. Respect comes from truth fleshing out in trust, and as previously outlined, trust comes from truth in action (more) – i.e. doing what you said you would do.
If I do what I said I would do and you do what you said you would do, we have a functional operation and the foundation for respect. If everyone is invested in being people who do what they say they will do then we can build trust and be unified around those values.
Simple things like telling the truth, doing what you say you are going to do and being organization that upholds as well as disciplines around those basic values are the foundations of developing unity. Jesus said it this way, "If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won't be honest with greater responsibilities (Luke 16.10 NLT)."
Seek and hire people who do what they say they are going to do, people who are trust worthy and who tell the truth. When you have a team full of individuals who are committed to doing what they say they are going to do you have the basic ingredients for an organization that respects each other, is trustworthy and can be unified in their collaborative efforts.
Conversely, if people do not do what they say they are going to do there will be no trust between team members. If there is no trust there will be no unity. If you are struggling with unity this is a symptom of a broader problem.
Long winded lecture, now back to the conversation:
Have you looked into whether your team members trust each other? No.
Do your team members have good reasons not to trust each other? No. I don’t think so.
Do your team members do what they say they are going to do? Yes.
If that is true, what could be the reason? Like you said, they need to trust each other.
Did you hear what I said in my long winded lecture on the origins of unity being rooted in trust and trust being based on truth? Yes.
Do you understand where trust comes from? Yes.
Where does trust come from? I don’t know. I just want our team to be more unified.
Ok. Good luck.
Perhaps all of this is nonsense. Maybe the concepts of being truthful and building trust by simply doing what you say you are going to do are too lofty. A few years back we coined the phrase DYOJO among some friends, which means Do Your Own Job. We added the additional O so that it sounded like dojo or a training ground for martial arts. In this way it’s the Dojo of Doing Your Own Job, we are learning and sparring and at times fighting to be the best that we can be. Our training ground is the DYOJO.
The friend, who serves as a person in a position of leadership, I was speaking with went on to share in his next meeting that everyone needed to trust each other. “We need to have better unity, be less negative and trust each other.” While all three of these statements are true in isolation, unfortunately my friend the PIAPOL did not see how they had to be true collectively in order to have any power.
Whether we don’t’ want to admit that we have issues or we don’t want to roll our sleeves up to do the dirty work of fixing the actual underlying issues rather than chasing our tails on symptoms, often times the answers to our questions are simpler than we want to admit.
Key steps to build team unity:
Jon Isaacson. Green belt in the puzzle art of business. Helping people clarify their vision, optimize productivity & follow through w/ creative solutions #MTWSL
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