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Conflict Management

How Should Entrepreneurs Deal with In-house Conflicts

Start-ups like Taggle, Dealsandyou etc., failed to function after the disagreement between founders
How Should Entrepreneurs Deal with In-house Conflicts
Image credit: Shutterstock
Entrepreneur Staff
6 min read

You're reading Entrepreneur India, an international franchise of Entrepreneur Media.

As a start-up begins to grow, the team almost functions like a family – they spend days and nights together, laugh together through troubles and even have team outings in ‘high’ spirits. It’s critical to maintain the right environment for the family to grow and most importantly, get the work done. Disagreements and misunderstandings too become a part of the process. However, it ultimately rests on the founders as to how they sort out conflicts.

These conflicts trickle down to the employees and affect the day-to-day operations of the start-up. The Indian start-up ecosystem has seen many start-ups dissolve because of unresolved conflicts between co-founders. Start-ups like Taggle, Dealsandyou etc., failed to function after the disagreement between founders which even saw one of them exit the company.

Entrepreneur India spoke to start-up founders about how they manage conflicts and keep ugly disagreements at bay. Most founders said that in a start-up there are usually three kinds of conflicts – between co-founders, amongst employees and a rare case but worst of them all, between founder and employees.

Partners Turned Foes

When two or three co-founders are building the company, there are a lot of disagreements that take place. The ideas of one partner are not in agreement with the other, yet all are passionate about the company’s progress believing that it is their idea that will help them achieve their goals.

A reason why co-founders often disagree is because either one of them is not aligned with the vision of the company, believes Muheet Mehraj, founder of The Kashmir Box. According to Mehraj, the execution plan both short term and long term should be perfectly explained to all founders. “Sometimes the message is not passed on to the core team properly and that creates a disconnect between founders. This disconnect eventually trickles down to the employees who end up having no idea about where the company is headed,” he said.  

Whenever they are discussing something important, be it the values of the company or the business operations, a difference of opinion can be handled in a mature manner. Madhulika Mukherjee, co-founder of the customer experience management startup Survaider, believes that in their case arguments are solved outside the office. “Ours is an open space with no cabins, so instead of fighting in front of our employees, we take it outside and resolve the conflict in a calm manner,” she said. Mukherjee also believes that everything should be in writing instead of just having a verbal discussion. “We turn to the whiteboard and simply do a SWOT analysis, writing down the pros and cons of our ideas. Writing it down also helps us realise the errors that we might have been suggesting,” she said.

Meanwhile, Ashwin Ramesh, CEO, Synup believes in living by the rulebook.  When they were building the company and it was in its initial stages they had a covenant, which works even today as a conflict redressal mechanism. “As we have set standards, we go back to the same. Additionally, when there are conflicts that are beyond the same, we turn to the board, who further arbitrate on the points put forth,” said Ashwin.

In case the founder decides to move on, there should be set terms and agreements on what happens next, believes Ashwin.

War Amidst the Union

Whether it is a small or big team, the conflict between employees is a common scenario in most companies. Deadlines being missed, ideas not being approved etc., are some of the reasons why employees have disagreements between them. In such a scenario, which usually arises because of difference in opinion, the immediate supervisor should look into the problem, believes Ashwin. “There’s a general framework for the same. Eighty per cent of grievances are addressed internally. As the immediate supervisor too is a part of the day-to-day operations, a peer from within the company who understands the goals should be brought in to get an outsider’s perspective,” he said.

These issues if not resolved could hamper the work environment in the office. “It is the founder’s responsibility to ensure that there is a conducive work environment,” said Mukherjee, and added, “Between employees, it is usually the fight of right and wrong. So it is important that the founders don’t arrive at a decision in a hurried manner, as it could turn the tide against them.”

Mukherjee follows the policy of talking to the employees involved on an individual basis and then sorting out the issue. She believes that the founder should share personal experiences and talk about how start-ups will obviously witness many ups and downs. “Give them boundaries and make sure they know that bad language or shouting will not be tolerated,” she said.

When the Employees Disagree with Founders

Sometimes, when the founders are too hard-focused on the growth of the company, they ignore the well-being of the employees. When big plans are being discussed, employees often voice their opinions which might not be on the same page as the founder.

 When people come from a diverse background or experience, sometimes their ideas don’t align with the company’s, believes Mehraj. “It is important to imbibe the culture of the company. The employees and management should be in sync with each other. The vision should be discussed with all, such that every employee knows their role in achieving the same,” he said. One should appreciate employees in public while pointing out their faults individually, believes Mehraj.

Agreeing with Mehraj, Mukherjee said that the founder should understand that everyone is passionate about the idea but not everyone’s opinions can be heard. “You need to take into account their employees, but be smart with what you say. While there’s no need to play nice, you need to put across the point that founders are the ones with a vision for the company,” she said.

How to Manage Conflict in A Startup