Mediate team members’ disputes
by Catherine Welborn
Problem: Last month, two members of your team argued over an error in a client’s order—each blaming the other for the mix-up. You stepped in, resolved the problem to the client’s satisfaction and moved on. Unfortunately, you were the only one who did move on. Both employees still hold a grudge, and tension is palpable in team meetings. What’s more, some of your other employees have “taken sides,” further escalating the problem. Everyone involved is completing assignments accurately and on time, so you don’t have any immediate concerns. However, you’re worried about the long-lasting repercussions on teamwork and morale.
Solution: Put an end to the dispute before it turns into an all-out feud. Follow these tips to develop a resolution that’s satisfactory for everyone involved:
- Meet with the employees separately. In a private one-on-one meeting, explain your concerns to each employee. Use objective I-statements: “I’ve noticed that you and John rarely speak since your disagreement last month.”
Ask the employee to briefly summarize how he or she views the situation. Your objective is not to learn every detail of the problem or listen to the employee vent. You are seeking an overview of the situation so that you are not blindsided later. If either employee indicates that the problem has escalated into a hostile work environment, involve an HR representative immediately.
At the end of those meetings, inform each employee that you will be scheduling a meeting at which all three of you will be present. Ask both employees to arrive with their emotions under control, ready to discuss the problem and offer possible solutions.
- Bring the two employees together. Start by reiterating your concern that the dispute is hurting team morale and camaraderie. Acknowledge that both individuals are valuable members of the team and that you are confident they can work through the problem.
Allow each employee to state his or her side, without interruption. Don’t take sides, but intervene if one of the employees resorts to name calling or personal attacks. Ask each person for specific solutions to the problem. Share possible solutions until you come up with a resolution they both agree to. Document their grievances and the steps each person will take to reach the agreed-upon resolution.
- Follow up. Offer the employees time to prove that they are adhering to their agreement. Don’t expect them to be best friends right away. Watch how they handle similar situations in the future. In most cases, the two employees will work out their differences.
If, after a reasonable period, the solution does not seem to be working, schedule another meeting. Discuss why the solution isn’t working and what alternatives might work better. Firmly tell them that they don’t have to be friendly but they do have work as a team. If they are unable to do that, they will face disciplinary action—which could include termination.
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