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When to Intervene

When problems or challenges arise, the natural tendency of a leader is to step in and manage or handle them. But it truly can be better for your team and entire organization if you don’t come to the rescue or intervene in every situation.


Differences are inevitable when passionate people work together. This is what leads to many challenges. Teams come to realize that working together to accomplish a common goal is tough work. What is expected of them as a team and the reality of actually making it happen is a shock and typically not pleasant.


Instead of riding in as the fixer and the hero it is important for the leader to differentiate between the different types of conflict teams experience and to have a plan for helping the team move forward. Dr. Eunice Parisi-Carew of The Ken Blanchard Companies gives us the four most common situations:


Conflict over positions, strategies, or opinions. If two or three strong but differing positions are being argued in the group and it is getting nowhere, a leader might stop the group and ask each member to take a turn talking with no interruption or debate. The rest are just to listen and try to understand where they are coming from and why they are posing that particular solution. In this instance, the leader’s job is to make sure everyone is heard. The leader should listen and look for concerns or goals that people have in common, then they can build on shared interests. In most cases this will become the new focus and turn the situation from conflict to problem solving.


Mistrust or uneven communication. If some people on the team are dominating the conversation while others sit silent or seem to have dropped out, a leader could stop the process, asking each person what they need from the others to feel effective in the group. Another suggestion is to appoint a process observer whose job is to focus on how the team is interacting. If tempers are rising or communication is not flowing, the process observer is allowed to call time and point out their observations. For example, “In the last five minutes we have interrupted the speaker 10 times,” or “We keep talking over each other.” Just knowing these facts can impact the interactions. It is harder to misbehave once you know what the impact of your behavior is and that others are noticing.


Personality clashes. When personal styles are very different and causing conflict among team members, a team leader might administer the DISC, MBTI, the Enneagram, or another behavioral assessment tool to help people better understand each other and learn to work together. These tools help people better understand the needs of others and give a frame of reference for dealing with individual differences.


Power issues and personal agendas. Sometimes the conflicts that must be resolved involve power issues, or strong personal agendas. The hard reality is that some people just do not fit on a team and a leader needs to be willing to remove them or offer them another role. This does not happen frequently but is occasionally needed. Once it is dealt with, the team usually moves forward dramatically. But this should be an option only when other attempts to work with the person have failed.


Conflict that is channeled properly can be healthy for a team. No question, the challenge for leaders is knowing how and when to intervene.


Often a change in behavior will alert you to potential problems you need to act on. Have you been missing some pertinent signs? Are you experiencing high staff turnover? Is your team having more time off? Has productivity dropped? Are some team members unusually quiet? Has their body language changed? These may be indications that there is a problem you need to address.


Ask yourself if your brand or customers will be affected by the situation. If there is any chance of this happening, no matter how small, you need to act. Depending on the situation, your actions may be as mild and small as offering guidance or support or as large and bold as taking matters into your own hands.


The next question should be, “If I don’t intervene, what will be the impact?” You need to know if employees will resign or become disengaged. What’s the chance that the conflict will escalate? In most work environments, there are multiple generations and personalities working together, and when the situation remains unresolved, you can count on the domino effect if you don’t choose to calmly intervene. You have to be able to identify which situations have the potential to escalate quickly.


If you notice most challenges and conflicts within your team are coming from one or more of the same staff members, it is time to step in. Repeat offenders can be very damaging for your organization. If not dealt with they will upset productivity, increase conflict, and cause high- performing employees to become disengaged. They will make a mess of your culture if left unhandled.


Sometimes, despite your best efforts to ensure everyone works well together, there are employees who just can’t seem to get along. If you don’t handle the situation, it can wreak havoc on an otherwise solid workplace.


These tips from Amy Gallo, expert on addressing conflict in the workplace, can help your team members fix it and move forward.


Address the situation. Not every little squabble requires you to get involved. For everyday friction, give people space to work things out. But when a disagreement becomes personal, or when it’s affecting the work, then it’s time for you to intervene.


Talk to both parties separately, starting with one-on-one conversations, helping each person see the other person’s perspective, understand their own emotions, and prepare for a conversation. Make sure you have the complete story and give everyone a chance to voice their grievances. Just helping a person feel heard can help.


Ask meaningful questions. It can be difficult for someone to put into words exactly why they feel slighted. Most of us have a limited emotional vocabulary. We also need help seeing another’s perspective. Gallo suggests asking, “What do you think is going on with her?” or, “What’s making him act that way?” If your employee is not immediately able to come up with realistic answers, keep pushing: “What else could be going on? What could be an alternate theory?” Help them open their mind to other viewpoints and perspectives that could help foster understanding.


Finally, ask questions that show team members they have the power to solve the problem. Ask, “What’s something you could do to make this situation better?” Through asking meaningful questions, Gallo says you’re helping the employee understand their own unique feelings, see the other person’s perspective, and see something they can do about it. They will walk away feeling heard and empowered.


Look ahead—together. After the people have gotten some calm and clarity, encourage them to talk with each other privately, communicating to each other what they have separately said to you. Let them know you believe in them; that they can work out their differences and find resolution on their own. Only act as a direct mediator if they ask you to be there. Help map out a plan to help everybody stay on the same page. Help your employees identify what group success looks like and how success for the group is different than individual success. With a shared mission that everyone believes in, they can move together in harmony.


Leaders create team involvement by knowing when and how to intervene and through a culture of great questions.Leaders who do nothing are not empowering teams, they are abandoning them. Endless struggle is not a teachable event. If the team is making progress, don’t intervene. If they are stuck or spinning, intervene. Let them know you want them to learn from your guidance but not to always rely on you to step in. Engage them in a culture of appreciation so they begin to lift each other up instead of you being the only source of encouragement. If you intervene wisely and only when and as it is significant, you will see teamwork grow and your need to intervene shrink.

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