Successful Entrepreneurs Don't Play Primary Politics
Are your employees squabbling? Left unaddressed, in-fighting can sink a company. As founder, you must learn to manage conflict.
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
Unless you're living under a rock, you're aware that election season is upon us. With several more primaries to go we can expect the mud to continue flying over the next several weeks. No matter what side you're on, the Dems or the GOP, there's one constant throughout the current round of backbiting -- the situation is at its ugliest when it's in-party fighting. We expect the liberals and conservatives to go at it on fundamental issues, but when they're fighting on the same side, it can be hard to know where moderate voters stand. Whether it's Trump vs. Cruz or Clinton vs. Sanders, when party members turn on each other, voters are often left scratching their heads about which is the lesser of two evils.
In business, we see it all the time: one team member turns against another, and rather than working together toward a shared vision for the good of the company and the success of their project, they try to one-up and out-do each other. Collusion and frustration ensue and pretty soon the entire team has to choose sides. Unfortunately, too many leaders dismiss the situation as a personality clash and miss important information underneath these relationship issues. This leads to diminished performance because conflict can obscure big problems if you write off the valid data hidden in the donnybrook.
Just as the saying goes, united we stand, divided we fall. A broken team (or political party) can't get much done. A team at odds quickly falls apart and becomes an unproductive mess.
Unite your team to win.
How do you get your crack team back on track? The good news is that it's a heck of a lot easier in business than it is in politics. It's time to take a step back and refocus your priorities. Get each team member to share their vision for the desired outcome, then recalibrate your team so everyone is working together toward a common goal. Sound too simplistic? Idealized?
Related: 7 Steps to Defuse Workplace Tension
In truth, aligning your team toward a common vision with goals owned by all is absolutely vital to the success of your company. The most important question you should ask: Is my team fighting for the success of the company or for their individual interests?
Just as we saw in the Final Four, when a one player is fighting for their own glory, they rarely end up a winner. But when the entire team is working toward a common goal and actively engaged in unselfish leadership, the whole team comes out on top.
It's rally time.
During the Democratic and Republican conventions, I suspect we'll see some unification toward a common goal. Despite their protestations, we suspect that both sides would prefer to see their party win, even if it's on the back of their fellow party member, instead of a victory of their own.
When it comes to your team, it's time to get everyone on the same page. A strong leader shares their vision with the team, but also listens to their concerns, and helps each team member realize their hopes and goals for the company. A strong leader understands that when one person succeeds, the entire team gets a boost.
Do all your team members have each other's backs?
If you're seeing petty arguments, clashing personality types or mounting frustration, talk it out. Don't avoid conflict and go on in a void of silence and negativity. Bring the conflict out onto the table. Lay it out in front of all parties and assess the issues against the vision and goals. Ask each person what's most important to them. Discuss what they're hoping to achieve -- both individually and as a whole -- and how the unified focus will serve their desired outcomes. If it doesn't, they don't belong.
Related: The 10 Telltale Signs It's Time to Quit Your Job
Be sure everyone gets a chance to listen and everyone gets a chance to be heard. Does this mean tempers won't fly and things won't get a little heated? We're all human, so of course some mudslinging and airing of grievances is inevitable, but keeping the conversation focused and the vision and goals of your company in mind can help get everyone get back on the same page.
Engagement is paramount and conflict should be encouraged -- as long as it's productive and it leads to a growth outcome.
Throwing in the towel.
Only one party member will receive the presidential nomination (unless we end up with a contested convention, but that's a whole different ball of wax). Unless your office is a real cutthroat, knock-down drag-out environment, chances are your staff will need to continue to work together as a team, so as leader, it's your job to make that happen.
There's always the possibility that someone who's miserable in their position will continue to bring down the rest of the team. In this case, it's time to have a one-on-one rally and figure out if the person's benefit is worth the cost of the liability. No one we've worked with has ever felt they liberated someone too soon. This is often a win-win. I've had folks I let go call me years later to thank me. Letting go can be challenging for two reasons. One, we suffer from loss aversion where the pain of loss outweighs the pleasure of gain in our unconscious mind. Two, because we're just plain human, we're afraid to be the "bad guy." But look at it this way: If one of your employees is obviously unhappy with their current position, there's no sense in letting them bring down the entire ship.
Related: The Real Cost of Workplace Conflict
I've found that in most cases, as soon as the options of "bail out" or "lean in" are presented with inclusion of all, most team members will rally and opt for the latter. But remember, oftentimes that squeaky wheel has some valid points, so see it as an opportunity to lead, listen and receive valuable feedback.