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You have to be Professional in the Office

Mini Case Study:

It isn’t necessary to personally like every person you work with, but you must be professional with everyone in the office at all times and function as a member of the team. Consider this situation…

Jessica leads a team of five in the accounting department of a national organization. About six months ago Jessica noticed that two of her team members, Elaina and Jim, did not seem to like each other. She mentioned the fact to one of her peers who told her that Elaina and Jim have never liked each other and it was a known fact in the organization. However, they have always worked together well even with a personal dislike of each other.

Lately, however, due to significant changes happening in the organization because of a merger, there was significant stress on Jessica’s department. This stress, it seemed was beginning to take its toll on the ability of Elaina and Jim to work together. They were conflicting significantly more on the most minor of issues. It was beginning to impact their ability to get their work done. These conflicts showed up as follows:

  • Regular disagreement about the best way to do a task without listening to each other to come to consensus
  • Regular “attacks” such as who arrived in the office a few minutes late, who took extra time at lunch, who didn’t do as well a job as the other and who was more favored by the boss
  • Eye rolling, shaking heads, sighing and otherwise indicating displeasure or disagreement when one or the other said something at a meeting
  • Talking over each other in meetings; never letting other person finish a sentence

It was also beginning to affect their teammates who told Jessica that they were uncomfortable being around the two of them. The fear among Jessica’s peers was that it would soon impact their departments.

Jessica needed to fix this situation. She felt strongly that personal relationships were not necessarily essential, but employees did need to work together well and be professional. Jessica perceived, and quite accurately, that Elaina and Jim were being less than professional in how they interacted with and communicated with each other.

What Jessica Decided to Do

Jessica invited a couple of her peers to go out to lunch. She wanted to get their thoughts on what she planned to do to address the conflict between Elaina and Jim. After the conversation, Jessica and her peers agreed on the following two high-level steps:

  • Jessica would meet with Elaina and Jim to discuss the situation. At this meeting, she would reset expectations about working together and specifically the importance of teamwork and collaboration and being courteous and professional.
  • Jessica would also get her team together for an off-site team building event which will focus on collaborating and working together as well as developing strong working relationships.

Jessica’s Meeting with Elaina and Jim

At the meeting with Elaina and Jim, Jessica reiterated that she did not expect that Elaina and Jim would be friends that got together after work; however, she did expect that they would be courteous and professional and have a strong working relationship. Jessica reiterated that this means she expects:

  • They work together on initiatives
  • They share best practices with each other
  • They support each other when each needs help
  • They communicate effectively and professionally with each other whether one-on-one or in team meetings
  • They respect each other and each other’s differences, similarities and expertise

Both Elaina and Jim acknowledged that their personal dislike for each other was getting in the way of working together effectively and agreed that they would set aside their personal differences. They agreed to begin immediately on setting aside personal differences.

Jessica asked Elaina and Jim to begin to collaborate by working with her to plan the off-site team meeting.

One Month Later: The Off-Site Team Meeting

The off-site team meeting was well planned by Elaina and Jim. Jessica noted that while differences still arose (which was perfectly fine and acceptable), Elaina and Jim worked through them well and it never got personal. They applied a number of conflict management best practices, as well as decision making best practices to stay focused on being professional and working together to accomplish a joint goal.

The meeting was a perfect opportunity for Jessica to reiterate the importance of team work and collaboration. Given the time since the last team meeting, it was also a great time to take a bit of a break from everyday workloads to focus on team building and building strong working relationships among team members.

Three Months Later: Checking In

Three months later, Jessica met again with Elaina and Jim to check in. She used this time to ask them how things were going with them as well as to let them know that she noticed that they were working together much more effectively and collaboratively. Both Elaina and Jim noted that they were enjoying working together and, in fact, had found some personal similarities such as hiking, camping and rock climbing.

In Summary…

While it is not practical to expect that each member of your team will personally like each other (though always nice when they do!), it is important to set expectations that working together well – collaborating, sharing best practices and knowledge, helping each other out – is expected of all employees. Acting professionally at all times is essential to strong teams.

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