3 min read: During a team building workshop I was running with a small organisation, I sensed some tension in the room between two managers. One of the managers was Beth, who had been with the organisation for about 15 years, and the other was a new project manager Phillipa, who had been seconded into the team from a partner organisation 3 months earlier.
The tension became apparent during a discussion about how the team liked to work when Beth made a number of pointed remarks about Phillipa not behaving as part of the team.
After the third comment I stopped the discussion and asked Beth to pinpoint what she meant by “not behaving as part of the team” by listing the behaviours she would like to see Phillipa start doing or stop doing.
Beth described how when the team were all catching up in the morning about the workload for the day ahead, Phillipa didn’t join in the discussion and instead worked away at her computer. Beth was also frustrated by the fact that when Phillipa went out on her visits for the day she would email everyone in the team with a list of places she was visiting rather than have a conversation with them, particularly as they were sitting right next to her.
Beth had observed these behaviours and leapt to the conclusion that Phillipa wasn’t interested in building relationships with the members of the team she had been seconded into.
When I asked Phillipa to comment, she explained that she didn’t know she was expected to get involved in the morning huddle and so quietly worked away so as not to disturb the discussion. She explained how at times there were things she could have contributed to from what she overheard, but felt it wasn’t her place to interrupt, particularly as she was new.
Phillipa let the team know her whereabouts each day by email as part of the safeguarding processes in her organisation. She worked alone each day visiting customers in their homes and so her organisation had put in place a process to make sure there was a written record of where she would be and at what time, so that anyone in the team could find her or raise the alarm if she didn’t arrive when she said she would.
Phillipa was genuinely surprised at Beth’s remarks and didn’t appreciate the downstream impact her behaviour was having on others. Beth and Phillipa both apologised to one another for their misguided assumptions and agreed to try some changes in how they worked together.
After the workshop I discussed the issue with the Team Leader, who acknowledged the following list of things that he should have done differently to get the relationships off to a flying start:
Many people I coach complain about the behaviour of a person they work with and assume the worst about why the person is behaving that way. When I ask them “So have you spoken to them about it?” the answer is usually “No” as they want to avoid the potential for confrontation. Instead resentment builds and relationships either never establish themselves or flounder and die. Tolerating the short term discomfort of asking the question and the potential confrontation that follows, is much healthier than holding your tongue and letting it fester.
The manager could have helped the team by taking the lead with the small steps above at the start of the secondment, then everyone would have been clear about the behaviours expected. They would have avoided resorting to toxic assumptions and the use of thought transfer or sarcasm to give their feedback and made it more likely the team worked in harmony from the outset.