In The Workplace

Many of our department managers are in conflict with one another due to miscommunication. This prevents us from creating a highly-coordinated management team. Our human resource department recommends that we undergo a team-building workshop with the help of an external facilitator. It includes a weekend trip to a resort in Tagaytay where we can unwind from the stress, listen to inspiring stories, enjoy games, and relax, while attempting to heal our internal conflicts. Is team-building the correct approach for us? — Questioning.
An old lady went to a tombstone cutter’s workshop to order a stone for her husband’s grave. After explaining that all she wanted was a small one with no frills as requested by her deceased husband, she told him to put the following words — “To My Husband” in a suitable place in the stone.
When the stone was completed and delivered, she saw, to her utter horror, the inscription: “To My Husband — In a Suitable Place.”
Miscommunication is the root of all evil. Many times, we hear but we don’t listen hard enough to understand everything. Being a good listener goes beyond practicing basic listening skills. In most cases, we also have to understand the context of the situation. But since we live in an imperfect world, mistakes do happen arising out of miscommunication.
In the workplace, miscommunication becomes too pronounced when people start arguing and defending their respective comfort zones. If miscommunication is an issue, I’m afraid that team building may not be the right intervention. According to management professor Rene Domingo of the Asian Institute of Management:
“Team-building exercises cannot build a great team. Building one starts with getting highly talented, self-motivated, dedicated professionals, organizing them to achieve a common goal. As in professional basketball or football teams and Formula 1 pit stop crews, there are no amateurs that could compromise the chances of winning.
“Even bench players are equally highly competent, ready to perform expertly when called upon to join the team. The spare tire should be as good as the other four. Team building exercises, often gamified to exhilarate, have short-term results.”
Mr. Domingo has an ally in Carlos Valdes-Dapena, who wrote “Stop Wasting Money on Team Building” for the Harvard Business Review. Mr. Valdez-Dapena, a researcher in the field of team effectiveness, claims that “(e)vents like these (team building programs) may get people to feel closer for a little while; shared emotions can bond people. Those bonds, though, do not hold up under the day-to-day pressures of an organization focused on delivering results.
Really, team building and team play are a lot easier to preach than to practice. Therefore, if a team building program is not advisable, then what can we do? Of course, there are practical and inexpensive options that your organization can select. These include the following seven step-by-step process which I developed over the years, using my more than 12 years of experience as an accredited court-annexed mediator.
In your case, the conflict can be resolved with the help of the HR department acting as an internal mediator:
One, initiate positive action by talking with the other person. This is easier said than done. You can designate HR or a common friend (with the same rank as the protagonists) to act as a mediator. Do this on neutral ground, preferably inside a vacant board room to avoid disturbance. This is needed so other employees don’t overhear the discussion.
Two, focus on specific behavior, not the personality of each party. Define the basic issue and discover its root cause or causes. Be specific on what went wrong. Be clear about it so that there is no room for misinterpretation. With the help of a mediator, the parties should be able to narrow down the basic problem and its peripheral issues.
Three, do some active listening. Many of us do not listen to understand, but we listen with the intention to have an immediate reply. You can’t solve a problem without active listening. However, it doesn’t mean that the other party must endure a 20-minute monologue by another. If this happens, the mediator should come in to redirect the discussion.
Four, be clear about the issues of disagreement. Define them in unambiguous terms. Sometimes, you will be surprised that the issue or issues may not be caused by one of the parties, but by someone else, who for some reasons may not be identified by the concerned party. If this happens, the mediator should ask specific questions that would help zero in on the issues.
Five, agree on all possible solutions to resolve the conflict. All solutions must come from both parties. The more they participate in coming up with solutions, the greater the chances that the issues are resolved. However, never rush the parties into resolving the issue or issues. Sometimes, one or both parties may need time to think it over.
Six, follow through on the implementation of the agreement. Things are not always what they seem to be even in the presence of a formal agreement. When things are not looking good, the mediator should immediately get both sides of the story before attempting to resolve the matter or propose a win-win solution.
Last, discover and celebrate the small wins. Celebrating progress, no matter how small, is crucial for healing and its long-term success. It’s also a morale booster for all parties. The mediator should continue encourage the parties to do their best in ending their rift. And try to track down all concerns, no matter how trivial they appear to be.
ELBONOMICS: Miscommunication is the root of all evil.
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