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Confessions of an Entrepreneur: The Frustration When Good People Don’t Get Along

Frustration when good people don't get along

February 26, 2020 | By Mark Zweig

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If you ask anyone who owns a business that has been in existence for any length of time what keeps them up at night, chances are they will tell you it’s “people problems.” It’s not making payroll or sweating over a big sale or the other stuff that you probably should be thinking about.

One of the most frustrating people problems to have as a business owner is when two employees, both of whom are productive ones, don’t get along. One of them decides that they are making all the money for the business. Or one decides that the other guy isn’t working as hard as they are. Or one of them thinks the other disrespected them in a meeting. Or someone thinks that the other person is being treated better than they are. Or one of many other things happens that creates conflict between the two.

While it might be nice if you could take the two people who aren’t getting along and bang their heads together, as Moe would do with Larry’s and Curly’s heads on an episode of “The Three Stooges,” that is not possible! As much as you might like to.

So what can you do?

Here are eight things that come to mind:

  1. Some preventative maintenance may be in order. Are you hiring the right people in the first place? Did you check their references? And if you do see signs that someone is too competitive or too negative about other people, do you pull them aside and confront that immediately? Maybe you can keep some of these relationship problems from getting out of hand if you act early.
  2. Are you sure you aren’t showing favorites or creating the impression that you have favorites? I am certain I have created problems for myself by doing this in the past. I have been really high on someone who is doing a great job and tell everyone around me how great they are. But instead of reinforcing the right kinds of behaviors, it makes other people jealous. They start disliking the other person – the one who in my eyes is a “star.” Be careful that you don’t overpromote someone.
  3. What can you do to build teamwork? Do you need to go on a ropes course together? Would an escape room experience be in order? Go on a canoe trip together? Some other team building exercise? These things may seem hokey, but it’s conceivable that they can also help people form more productive relationships.
  4. If a “not getting along” situation does develop, investigate it and hear everyone out. Sometimes people are upset for good reason. A mistake a lot of managers make is assuming that a complaint isn’t legitimate because of preconceived notions about specific people or situations. If someone did do something that hurt the other person’s feelings, maybe you should bring that up to the offender and suggest they try to make amends.
  5. Be careful which things you measure and report on. The scorecard you keep could be a major factor in creating problems. You can’t always quantitatively measure someone’s contributions, especially over the short term. People don’t always see the long-term results of other people’s efforts. And overhead allocations to determine profitability of one area of the business over another can be arbitrary. There are many complex interrelationships that need to be acknowledged.
  6. Make sure your raise and/or bonus program doesn’t reinforce the wrong things. If it is too slanted toward individual performance and group/team/department/office performance versus company-wide performance, you could be “getting what you are paying for,” i.e., too much internal competition. My preferred practice is to pay out most of the bonus money based on how the company performed overall versus how individuals did their jobs.
  7. Be careful to not to talk about other people in a negative way. You could be inadvertently contributing to the problem. Again – I have been guilty of this over the years. You could be inadvertently creating a culture where people are too critical and judgmental. This can be toxic, and I have to fight my natural tendencies.
  8. Promote the idea of “one for all and all for one.” Bring up the issue at meetings. Talk about it, including the idea that various units do well at different times. Talk about how having one product or service line that is ostensibly not as profitable as another still benefits everyone. Talk about success stories of cooperation between people or across organizational lines and how that accomplished something they couldn’t have gotten done otherwise. Maybe you should even go as far as putting “One company for all” on all internal communications.

Folks, this is important stuff. We all need our sleep. Let’s do what we can to head off or mitigate problems that are keeping us awake!

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Mark ZweigMark Zweig – a leading expert in management and business for the architecture, engineering, planning, and environmental industry – is president of Mark Zweig, Inc., which has been named to the Inc. 500/5000 list of fastest-growing privately-held companies; chairman and founder of Zweig Group – named to the Inc. list three times – and entrepreneur-in-residence teaching entrepreneurship at the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas.