Dear Geese: “It’s not my problem!”
Two of my co-workers have been at odds with each other for some time now. For me personally, I can work with both of them just fine. Whatever difference they may have with each other has absolutely no impact on me…until recently. I say that because our new manager has decided our team needs some kind of group intervention with an outside facilitator this coming week. Words can’t begin to describe how angry I am right now for: 1) being pulled into a problem that I didn’t cause; 2) being forced to sit through some kind of group counseling session against my will; and 3) wasting valuable company time and money over an issue I could care less about. Am I old fashion in thinking that it’s the manager’s job to fix this?
Dear Why Me,
What do these 3 scenarios below have in common?
- A dysfunctional group who believes that it would be much easier to put up with the dysfunction than go through the trauma of addressing it.
- An employee who asks for help on how to be more complacent in the workplace.
- A manager who is uncomfortable with conflict and directs his two conflicting employees to resolve their differences or get fired.
To me, I see the following:
- A belief in the adage, it’s not my problem until it impacts me directly!
- An uncomfortableness with conflict and strife.
- An unwillingness to stand up to dysfunctional or detrimental behavior.
- An inability to see the connection between problematic behavior and team/company culture.
- An acceptance of being enablers of the status quo.
- A reluctance to change or become the agent of change.
In my opinion, we are either part of the problem or part of the solution; there is no middle ground, especially when it comes to group dynamics. By not saying anything…by not asserting ourselves…by accepting the dysfunction…by working around a problem-person in the department instead of addressing him/her directly…by looking the other way when 2 co-workers refuse to work together…we have actually contributed to the problem by enabling it. Simply put, no action is very much an action. It’s condoning the dysfunction.
Your manager is actually doing the right thing by making the whole team responsible and accountable for the dynamics that occur within the team.
Case in point: I was in an Outward Bound program one summer with 9 other people. Within a few hours, 2 of the guys in the group began arguing continuously with each other. It went on for what seemed like an eternity. Although uncomfortable at times, I looked the other way. After all, I thought, their problem is not directly impacting me, so why should I care?
Shortly thereafter, our instructor pulled us all together and made us sit in a circle. He then said to us, “You guys have a problem. Jonathan and David are not working effectively with each other and you need to fix this.”
I remember questioning why “we” had the problem and not Jonathan and David. Isn’t that the same thing as punishing a whole group for a mistake that a single member caused? Where is the justice here!
Just then our instructor asked us the following sequence of questions:
“Do you see value in being a team when you leave base camp and go out in the wilderness together for 7 days?”
Our answer: “Yes”
“As a team, is it important that you are able to communicate effectively, collaborate together, and support each other, given that your survival depends on it?”
Our answer: “Yes”
“Is being able to resolve conflict within the group a part of working well together?”
Our answer: “Yes”
“Then why the hell aren’t you doing it! You have two members in conflict right now and you are all looking the other way!”
Our answer: “Ah, you’re right, this is now a team problem so let’s talk this out and resolve it.”
Why Me, you are as responsible for the behaviors that occur within your team just as your fellow teammates are. Your manager is simply empowering the group to take on that ownership. It’s what teams do. You are the co-creators of the team environment.
The truth is, this principle applies to all of our relationships, not just the ones at work. We are all responsible for our results. So instead of accepting dysfunction, change it! Instead of complaining about a boss, confront the problem head-on! Instead of looking the other way when two co-workers are fighting, put your foot down and say “enough!”
It’s time we all took a little more ownership and become the change agent that we need to be. If not you, who? If not now, when?
As Gandhi once said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
Greg “Geese” Giesen
The Laughing Leader
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