Ask the Expert : V2 Issue 1

1. Two of my senior team members refuse to work together on projects owing to certain personal conflict. I am deeply concerned about this since this not only affects productivity but also results in undue hostility between junior team members. I need both of them to start working together and showing results! Please suggest a few effective conflict resolution tips.  

Yes, not dealing with workplace conflicts can be detrimental to the organization, both in terms of loss of productivity as well as loss of a positive work environment. To effectively resolve the conflict intervene immediately with the following steps:-

  • Understand the problem:  A conflict cannot be resolved unless one determines the root cause for it. So gather as much information as possible for the underlying reasons for the conflict. Call a meeting of the two team members. Communicate to them that the objective of the meeting is to sort out their individual differences in a calm and positive manner and not to criticize or point fingers. Allow each of them to speak about the issues pertaining to the conflict without being interrupted by the other. Make sure both of them clearly understand each other’s viewpoint. If any of them tries to derail the resolution process, deal with them firmly. Exercise your authority if required to convey that resolution of conflict is essential.

  • Brainstorm on possible solutions: Once the conflict situation has been understood, build a positive discussion to determine different solutions. Seek clarifications, ask open ended questions, and suggest possible solutions. But, do not enforce your ideas or take sides. If you play favorites it can defeat the purpose of the meeting.

  • Choose the best solution: Listen carefully. To reach a consensus, it is very important to explore the real needs, expectations, concerns and fears. Involve both of them in the decision making process. Impress upon them that you are looking for a solution that makes both of them happy. Select the solution that is mutually acceptable, even if it is not perfect for either of them. As long as it seems fair and there is a mutual commitment to implement the solution, the conflict has a chance for resolution.

  • Implement solution. Now, implementation is the toughest challenge of all! Work out the details-what each person will do, what to do in case the agreement starts to break down etc.

  • Do not stop evaluating the solution: Once the solution has been arrived at, figure out a way to consistently follow up with your two team members to ensure efficacy of the solution. If the conflict still persists, one is back to square one and you need to begin with step one.

There is no doubt that resolving interpersonal conflicts at the work place is one of the toughest challenges faced by managers. If they are handled well, however, interpersonal conflicts can actually be productive leading to deeper understanding, mutual respect and closeness between the conflicting parties.


2. I have been made in charge of a big project. The cross functional team that I will have to manage historically has been unable to deliver as per the project deadlines. How do I ensure the cross functional team delivers as per project timelines?

If it is hard to get traditional teams within departments to be effective, it is exponentially more difficult to get cross functional teams to deliver. But with detailed and rigorous planning it can be done. Some suggestions for improving effectiveness of your cross functional team are provided below.

  • Ensure that your cross functional team is structured it into smaller workgroups.  When a team is large, communications and productivity suffer since members feel less accountable and their participation decreases. Establish proper handoffs from one part of the team to another.

  • Arrange for your team members to meet outside office for sometime to allow them to get to know each other especially since they are from different departments and may not know each other well. This is a good time to determine how the team will work together…. How will it make decisions? How will it assess progress? How will it work on team issues? Identify potential barriers to effective work and ways to address them. 

  • Keep things simple. Deploy a basic project management methodology. Use terminology commonly understood by all during all team communications. For the team to be effective team members will need to be able to meet and communicate easily. They will need to have direct access to those who provide valuable input to them and to the recipients of their work. Confirm if this is so. If not talk to the respective department heads to facilitate the same.

  • Plan for adequate dedicated time for each of the team member for this project. Speak to the department heads if necessary. This way this responsibility of theirs will also be reviewed during their appraisal and hence they will feel more accountable for it.

  • Before your project team commences work ensure the team objectives are realistic, clear and specific. Define them in writing by creating a mission statement and distributing it to all involved. This will get your team motivated and unified. Determine individual responsibilities and project milestones based on your team’s ability. Encourage the team members to suggest timeframes for their deliverables. That way they will be more committed to meeting them.

  • Circulate a summary as well as detailed plan to the project team so that they get the big picture and are aware of the milestones. Regularly follow up on the status of the milestones to determine whether the project is on track. Keep everyone informed on the progress of the project so they are engaged in the whole process.


3. We, recently, hired a person for my team from one of the leading companies who have implemented some of the best practices in the industry. Towards the end of his department orientation, he confronted me, his manager, about the lack of proper planning in the orientation program. What would be your suggestions for a Manager to ensure that his/her new team members go through a proper orientation process?

All new employees should complete an orientation program designed to assist them in adjusting to their jobs and work environment and to instill a positive work attitude and motivation. Normally at the time of joining, the HR department will put the new joinee through an induction process. Let the new joinee complete that fully before joining your team. Do not insist on him/her joining soon. Understand what that induction process includes. In the department’s orientation process plan for activities which are essential but not covered in that induction process.

The Manager is ultimately responsible for retention of an employee and a smooth induction into the department is the first step towards this goal. So plan carefully. Some of the things you can include in the orientation are:-

  • Provide an agenda to the new joinee to let him/her know what to expect from the orientation and assuring him/her that his/her orientation is a planned affair. Most importantly stick to the agenda.

  • Brief the new joinee about the company and his/her job. Discuss any concerns or queries they may have. Provide a list of FAQs.

  • Also find out about the new member's interests, strengths, skills and what they hope to gain from their new experience.

  • Assign a mentor or a buddy to show the new person around, make introductions, and help him/her in the initial months to settle down. The mentor also needs to be provided with sufficient time to prepare prior to the new joinee coming on board.

  • Begin with the basic knowledge and skills required to do the job. Individuals become productive sooner if they have a strong foundation in them. So ensure this is so. If not plan for it to be provided. Convey commitment to continuous improvement and continual learning. That way, new employees become comfortable with asking questions to obtain the information they need to learn. Avoid any overload of information. Include practical exercises along with theory. Include some fun activities.

  • Involve them in various company social events. Allowing them the chance to get to know their colleagues in a more informal setting can lay the foundation for an amiable and productive relationship. Plan to take them out for lunch. Include other co-workers, making sure the employee is at ease. 

  • Keep the new person's family in mind.  A new job means adjustment for the entire family, especially if they have relocated. Do what you can to ease the transition and help them feel comfortable in the community. 

  • Lastly don’t forget to ask for constructive feedback from the new joinees on the orientation process. Incorporate changes based on this feedback.