Overcoming Conflict At Work: A Case Study In Rising Above Personal Differences

At the end of the Accelerated Leadership Programs, we do project presentations and they’re usually groups of four or five people. There was one group on one project that for some reason was having extreme difficulties with each other. There was a lack of trust – something had been going on. We work on our leadership skills all the way through the program, and I always say: every group is different, but every group ultimately gets there.

This group was about one week before they needed to give their presentation. Literally, there were two or three people on that team that were not talking to each other. One of them invited me for coffee to just talk and she said to me:

“You know, it’s really unfortunate that the program has to end this way.”

And I looked at her and I said:

“Really? The last time I checked, the program wasn’t over yet.”

“I don’t know about you, but if it were me, I wouldn’t let it end this way. I’d call this group together. I’d get in a room and I would do whatever it takes to get through what we have to with our issues that we have with each other, so that when we get on that stage and present to senior management, we have each other’s back. We are a solid, single force doing this project together, working together.”

She replied:

“You know what? You’re right.”

So she pulled the group together and got them all in a room and closed the door. She essentially wasn’t going to let anybody leave until everything that needed to be said was said. Everybody communicated their things that they’d been holding back. I understand it was very cathartic. They realized that they didn’t need to be the best of friends after this program – but for purposes of this exercise and presenting this project to senior management, they had to be one unit. They had to have each other’s backs.

So they got through their issues… and to be honest, they were one of the groups going in I was most worried about … about how well they were going to present.

And, they blew it through the roof.

They knew that they had each others’ backs in that moment in time. So I guess the lesson here is:

A) It’s never too late

B) Just because you may not be the closest with someone doesn’t mean that you can’t connect with someone, get aligned with them, and create a result with them inside the company.

From the a high performance leadership perspective, overcoming conflict at work can look like setting aside the expectation of personal friendship, and instead committing to a shared vision and a common goal. There is even a historical precedent that teams of rivals may at times perform even better than teams of friends.

Best of luck on your quest to develop an organization where high performance leadership is the standard. We are always available to connect on what that may look like at your company.

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