I worked with a client who was not very popular with his staff.
He had high standards and wasn’t afraid to enforce them. He was blunt and direct; some would say that his feedback crossed the line to unkind.
Over time, his communication style fostered resentment in his team. One employee in particular, became a ringleader for “the resistance.” She would subtly push back on the owner’s ideas, undermining his direction behind the scenes.
Soon, there was a full-blown rebellion.
His once high-performing team started to drop balls and disappoint clients.
He reacted by meeting one-to-one with his team members to get to the bottom of the issue. Unfortunately, the one-on-one discussions validated the team’s objections.
The ringleader could see that the leader knew he needed their help to meet the client demand, so she felt empowered. Now we had key team members threatening to quit, lots of watercolor conversation, and secretive phone calls just outside the office.
He finally came to me asking for help! How can we save this situation?
I gave him 3 recommendations:
- Apologize. The team had legitimate points. Say you are sorry and implement changes to your style and work habits.
- Instead of focusing on the disgruntled team members, talk about the mountain of exciting and important projects in the pipeline. Talk about the importance of the work they are doing, the results the clients are achieving from the team’s work, and the opportunities for the team members that will come from continued success (e.g., Promotions, raises, exposure in the national press, etc.)
- Fire the ring leader. Let everyone understand that they are replaceable. Be clear that productive cooperation is more than welcome, but insubordination would not be tolerated.
Within a month, his team was heads down, working hard, and turning out good work again.
He had a long road to improve his work style and communication (that’s where I came in), but his business started growing again.
It’s taken me a long time to learn; I don’t have to fight every battle that comes my way, and wars fought within your team are usually not productive!
Is there a battle you need to let go of (or a person you need to let go of)? How can you focus your team on what’s in their best interests (and your interests too)?