In The Workplace

I’m the department manager of one medium-size enterprise. My department is being rocked by dissents and personality conflict between and among our millennial supervisors that most of the time, the result is disastrous, if not emotionally draining for us. Can you help us rejuvenate ourselves without us going through a costly teambuilding exercise? — Exasperated.

This is an old story that I remember using more than three decades ago when I taught the value of teamwork to managers of my former employer. I’d like to share this with you to emphasize the importance of teamwork among millennials who are aspiring to become long-time members of the management team:

Several parts of the body tried to determine who would be the boss. The brain said, “Since I’m coordinating every function of the body, I’m the logical choice to be the boss.” The heart objected, while saying, “Without my pumping blood throughout the body, none would be able to function, so I should be the boss.”

The eyes said, “Without us working, the body would not know where it is going. Therefore, we should be the boss.” The mouth raised its voice, “I speak for the rest of us. I should be the boss.” One by one, each member of the body gave his reason as to why he should be the boss.

Finally, the neck spoke up and said that he should be the boss. “You!” said the brain. “And why you? You’re not doing anything to begin with.” The heart laughed and said: “We wouldn’t even miss you if you weren’t here.” This made the neck very mad, and he became tense. His muscles knotted up, causing everyone else to feel excruciating pain.

So intense was the pain that the brain couldn’t think. The eyes became blurry, and the heart had to work hard that it became tired and began to skip a beat every now and then. After a week of this, all the parts of the body agreed that the neck should be the boss.

Sometimes, you need a real, pain in the neck to shock everyone to his or her senses. But the pain need not be physical. And it’s only a matter of redirecting everyone to the task at hand and how endless debates could harm the department and the organization, in general. That should be the first general step to start a healing process among your bickering deputies.

And when I say “a healing process,” I mean creating and designing the best possible ground rules on how people should work together and how their issues are resolved in the best way possible. Take stock of the following procedures:

One, revisit and get a clear understanding of your company purpose. The vision, mission, and values (VMV) can give everyone an accurate context and clear their thoughts. Anything outside of then should be expelled out in people’s mind. If you don’t have the VMV, then you may have a bigger issue than you previously thought. Most of the time, the absence or lack of understanding of the VMV could create chaos in the organization.

Two, organize a fast-track meeting for all supervisors. This may mean a half day or one day event that you can do outside of the company, so that everyone is not disturbed. Review the VMV with everyone. And answer the following question: “How do we want to work together as an efficient and effective team?” This may include listing down “punctuality” or things like “take your issue to the person who created it.” If not shortening meeting time to not more than one hour.

Three, summarize all important points that have been raised. Do brainstorming and review the list of ideas. Check for overlap or duplication, even wrong grammar or spelling. But before doing that, seek the approval of the person or persons who proposed them because you don’t want to create another point of disagreement. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of changing a word or some phrases to help clear all doubts.

Four, invite everyone to challenge the content of the ground rules. Be patient with another debate to strengthen the rules and make it acceptable to everyone. Tell people that it is their future guidebook. If an agreement cannot be reached, promise that it will be a dynamic “law” that could be repealed or revised anytime, depending on the circumstances. Another option is to go back to the idea proponent and ask why it is important to him. Or you can try asking if his idea can be solved through other means.

Five, try to understand the concerns of everyone. Check their mood. If the supervisors are not enthusiastic, then there could be something missing. Probe deeper by asking another question: “Does everyone agree that this is best way to resolve our issues with one another?” Go ask everyone for his or her opinion. There should be no passive participant. Let everyone be frank with one another. After all, the rules should help provide them the necessary measurement to understand each other.

You may need an external consultant or facilitator to help you in this process. If not, you can seek the assistance of another department, including human resources. Whatever happens, be the first one to establish the proper setting. Show interest in people’s dissent. It only goes to show that they’re very much interested in creating progress for the organization, and not for something else.