Reason 9

20121022_105221They Make You Work with People You Can’t Stand

Of all the reasons to hate work teams this is one of the most obvious and the least talked about. We all have people we can’t stand. How is it that they inevitably end up on a team with us?

Teams are supposed to be cohesive units of highly effective individuals. Admitting you would like to rip the face off your teammate would only prove you are not a good team player which would likely put you at odds with one of the ‘core competencies’ of your organization. So it’s better just not to admit it, or go underground with your comments and slander the individual that way. Feelings however, have a nasty way of leaking and finding outlets. You might find yourself disagreeing with everything the person says, dismantling with flawless logic every idea they have, deviously and subtly pointing out how  they are the barrier to effectiveness but never, ever admit you can’t stand the sight of them.

Guess what. No one really cares if you like everyone on the team or not. As long as the team is effectively meeting its objectives, the seething rage you feel at the sight of your teammate is your problem. Maybe you’ve heard that if the people on a team don’t get along, the team can’t be as effective as it might be. Who can argue with that? It’s obvious and that’s the problem. Too many teams go through elaborate measures to address pretty obvious interpersonal problems and have done very little to understand what task they should be working on. A team whose members hate each other, but nevertheless work on a clear objective will be much more valuable than a team that does group hugs and has no idea what they’re doing. Get your task stuff clear first and then work on the interpersonal stuff. You’ll encounter fewer interpersonal issues if you go about things in this order, since a lot of interpersonal issues are really task or performance issues in disguise.

One exception. On occasion a team will have such problematic interpersonal issues that nothing else can be effectively focused on.  Every time you try to focus on the work issues the interpersonal black hole just sucks that focus into the blackness.  It’s not often that teams get to this point but if they do then you do need to sort out this mess before moving on.

There are really two types of interpersonal issues:

  1. Those based in style or preference.
  2. Those based on weird stuff.

Both require one critical factor to resolve them – all parties must want to resolve them. If this is not the case, not only do you have an interpersonal problem, you have a performance problem; with the person(s) not wanting to resolve it.

In the work world probably 95% of interpersonal issues fall into category 1 and can be effectively addressed without too much trouble. Thank heavens category 2 is only 5% because they are weird enough that it can be a big challenge to deal with, especially if they play out with someone in power.

Category 1 interpersonal issues usually require some version of better understanding the style or preference diversity in a team and how to best work with that diversity. There are countless ways of going about this and in essence the team is learning a new language to understand behavior. Like learning any new language it takes time, application, repetition and context. Often an external resource is helpful, just like with learning any language. A half day workshop won’t do the trick. It might get things started but the team will have to keep it going.

Category 2 issues are complex, often loaded with baggage that is hard to surface and likely harder to resolve. That’s why they are weird. Go get outside help. Your not learning a new language here, an old language is being forgotten and a new one invented.

Keep in mind 95% of interpersonal issues are category 1; don’t assume category 2 until all else has failed, including dealing with the issue as a performance issue.  Also, even when you are dealing with interpersonal issues, don’t take your eye and focus off the task at hand. When it comes right down to it, no one else in the organization cares about the interpersonal issues on your team. They care about the team producing results.

Discussion and comment points for this post:

  1. How have you effectively worked with interpersonal issues on a team?
  2. Have you ever worked on a team where members really didn’t like each other? Tell us the story!
  3. Have you ever seen an interpersonal issue resolved by making it a performance issue?
  4. When interpersonal issues go underground, what things have you done to deal with this?


6 Responses

  1. I absolutely agree with your statement that teams must “Get the task stuff clear first and then work on the interpersonal stuff.” Sometimes I see teams immediately assume that the issue is interpersonal (which it may be) and that some team building is going to solve all their problems. We’ve recently had this discussion within our team and have been looking at a framework of team collaboration where at the base you have goals and role clarity, then the next step up would be process, then communication, and at the top of the pyramid you have team effectiveness. This visual has helped when I get calls from clients that say everything is going wrong in their team so they need to do some sort of “feel good” activity to fix it! The framework I mentioned can lead me to asking some additional questions about the team, which will unfold if we first need to focus on a few other critical items before stepping in to the interpersonal issues territory.

    • Another neat post Brittany; thanks! Your framework for looking at or analyzing how to work with a team sounds good and it’s interesting to note that nowhere in the graphic is ‘interpersonal’ mentioned even though teams may gravitate there very quickly as you note.

      The ‘interpersonal stuff’ is always part of the process of doing other things and those other things need to be considered first I think before you land on the need to fix interpersonal challenges.

      They are just so obvious and emotionally charged however that they can easily look like the most important thing to work on.

  2. Hmmm Brittany, thanks for sharing your perspective on this and I like the framework in which you have laid it out. I have had some success working through some of the interpersonal challenges within the team. Something that is quite simple is just have them put the issue out front so they can see it. Often the issues are between them so there is a real push and pull and they are stuck. By intentionally putting the issue out front they are able to look at it from a different lens and often it does not seem as personal. The TMP is a great tool to ensure the voices of the team system are being heard. Seeing that people relate differently it is important as a facilitator, leader, coach or what ever your role is to understand some of the fundamentals of the differences and hos best to work with them.

    Yes, I have worked on a team and with teams where people really don’t like each other and that is okay. Because I like harmony this can be a real challenge for me and I have worked very hard over the years to ‘get over it’. This has been very freeing and as long as you have a common goal and you work toward that you really don’t have to like each other. That is not to say that you can be rude or disrespectful. Often we need to get out of our on ways to make things happen 🙂

    • Thank you Wendy! When I have worked with teams, I too on occasion have simply put the interpersonal issue ‘out front’ so it is more present and obvious.

      Sometimes these issues are like those monsters under our beds when we were little. They seem much worse when we just think about them and imagine what they might really be like and then when we actually look under the bed it’s not so scary at all! Often however we might need someone to actually force us to look under the bed though!

      By using this metaphor I am not saying it is like dealing with children! People (all of us at times) are often so close to our interpersonal issues that we cannot really see them clearly enough to understand what is happening and it is valuable to get some help.

  3. I like your comment about interpersonal issues based on ‘weird stuff’. Although these issues may occur only 5% of the time, they can be the hardest ones to resolve.

    On my fridge I have a quotation. “The problem with the world is that the intelligent people are full of doubt and the stupid people are full of confidence.” This is a tongue-in-cheek interpretation of the Dunning-Kruger effect, resulting from a study by the eponymous authors with a sample of students at Cornell University. It describes an effect where incompetent people fail to realize they are incompetent because they lack the skill to distinguish between competence and incompetence. Actual competence can weaken self-confidence, as competent individuals may falsely assume that others have an equivalent understanding. This effect is one of the many psychological biases that can destroy teamwork.

    When the Dunning-Kruger effect combines with other biases in judgment and decision-making we can start to see the origin of serious pathologies in teamwork. Confirmation Bias (sometimes known as Myside Bias) is an important aspect that magnifies the Dunning-Kruger effect. It involves favoring information that confirms previously existing beliefs or biases. It’s an unconscious act of referencing only those perspectives that confirm our pre-existing views, while at the same time ignoring or dismissing opinions – no matter how valid – that threaten our world view. People holding both Dunning-Kruger and Confirmation biases are likely to accept only the views of those who agree with them and in the extreme may extrapolate from the specific to the general e.g. finding one person to agree with them may be enough to hear them say, “Everyone I have spoken to says this is the best thing to do.” Anecdotes rather than facts become their mantra.

    There are even more biases that can raise the level of dysfunctionality. How does a team deal with the Egocentric Bias that occurs when people claim more responsibility for themselves for the results of a joint action than an outside observer would credit them? What about the problems of the Empathy Gap, where some people have a tendency to underestimate the influence or strength of feelings, in either oneself or others. Or the Backfire Effect where people react to disconfirming evidence by strengthening their beliefs. And perhaps the ‘grand-daddy’ of them all, the bias that begets all other biases, the Blind Spot – a tendency to see oneself as less biased than other people, or to be able to identify more cognitive biases in others than in oneself.

    Weird stuff indeed!!

    • Hello Dick!!! Your comment made me smile and I’m pretty sure I have and do exhibit most of these biases and likely many more! Probably why I went the route of independent consultant and now on a small virtual team! And here all along I thought those were my choices!

      Your post illustrates well how deep and dark the waters of ‘weird stuff’ can be and why it can be important to get help if needed. Also that it is best to try and deal with the not so weird stuff first and see if things get better.

      Your post also prompted me to get out a journal I have called ‘In My Humble Opinion’ which is basically a journal to rant about all those people I can’t stand or are just incredibly stupid ‘in my humble opinion’. I highly recommend it!

      It has some awesome quotes as well so in light of your comment here are some quotes that might make us all smile when thinking about those people on our teams that we can’t stand:

      ‘Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former’. – Albert Einstein

      ‘The world is populated in the main by people who should not exist’. – George Bernard Shaw

      ‘I only go out to get me a fresh appetite for being alone’. – Lord Byron

      ‘It’s too bad that stupidity isn’t painful’. – Anton Lavey

      ‘Cabbage, n. A familiar kitchen-garden vegetable about as large and wise as a man’s head’. – Ambrose Bierce

      ‘Just think of how stupid the average person is, and then realize that half of them are even stupider’. – George Carlin.

      So I read these quotes ever once in a while, smile, perhaps do a ranting journal entry and then consider that there are likely quite a number of people who see my face when they read those quotes. After that I can get on with things….

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