I'm a senior manager with responsibility for the performance of several hundred people. But in my close management team I have two people – both men – who hate each other. They didn't when they started working together but their hatred has grown and now appears irreconcilable. It's a deep-seated personal thing.
I've tried everything to make peace between them but nothing works and their performance is badly affected by it. Neither is willing to move and each threatens to make a huge fuss if they're the one that has to move. I have to resolve this situation quickly. What can I do?
Simon Broomer, counsellor at CareerBalance, a job coaching service, says:
This situation cannot be allowed to go on for a day longer and needs your urgent attention.
Their behaviour must raise disciplinary issues under their contracts of employment and therefore could lead to the dismissal of one or both of them for misconduct.
You have obviously tried to read the riot act to them and it appears that you do not want to lose either of them.
However, the negative effect on the morale and motivation of the rest of your team and on others in the organization must be serious. People will also be questioning your effectiveness as a manager for allowing this situation to continue.
I assume that you have also tried to get to the bottom of this by speaking to each of these employees separately and, given the seriousness of what has been going on, that you have brought it to the attention of your manager and human resources team. They could try to act as mediators, or you might want to bring in an external coach to see if they can resolve the conflict.
I once worked in the HR team of a large organization when two male employees were hauled in front of the HR manager for having a fist fight in the office. They were both bloodied and bruised but after a stern dressing down from the HR manager, their relationship improved. They seemed to have found the experience cathartic and remained in the organization with no more fights.
If you conclude after your efforts that either or both employees will not listen to reason, then I would dismiss both. Your credibility and authority in your team, and in the wider organization, depends on you acting decisively.
Jennifer Room, human resource director for the U.K. and Ireland at EMC, a technology specialist, says:
A key first step to resolving conflict involves spending time with each of your managers, reinforcing the organization's core values and culture and the behaviours expected.
On the assumption that the workplace is generally a collaborative and respectful environment, the specifics of any conflict should always take second place to the role that management plays every day in setting the right leadership example and demonstrating the behaviours and values of the business.
This is a central part of the leadership role of senior staff and it needs to be made clear that failing to live up to these standards could represent a serious performance issue for each of them.
If personal performance and success is insufficient motivation, external mediation – either through a neutral third party from elsewhere in the business, such as HR, or with an external mediator – might help discover areas for resolution, if not compromise.
If all attempts at reasonable conflict resolution fail, more serious intervention might be needed. This could be functional – for example, restructuring the managers into different teams – or disciplinary, under the terms of each of their employment contracts.
Good or bad, management will set the tone and landscape for the rest of the organization and a poor tone can lead to a fractious, disruptive and uncomfortable work environment. The problem must be tackled head on and not be allowed to affect others in the business.