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Leadership advice: How to get opposing factions to work together

Feb. 10, 2020
Tom Moriarty says clear direction and guidance from leaders is the remedy for work team conflicts and other bad behavior.

I was recently hired to attend a leadership event and provide a presentation on Productive Leadership at a manufacturing plant. Earlier in the day, I was given a plant tour by the plant manager, met individually with staff members, and attended a production meeting. The meeting participants included the production manager and a dozen or so superintendents, supervisors, the production planner, etc. After their production meeting agenda concluded we had an impromptu discussion about leadership.

About the Author: Tom Moriarty

I asked everyone to share one of their leadership questions or concerns. One of the supervisors shared a topic I haven’t covered in this column. He asked, “How do you get two factions in a work center to work together instead of fighting against each other?” Specifically, there was one faction that were doers (people that wanted to do the right things, the right way) and minimalists (people that did the bare minimum).

What happens in these scenarios is that one set of peers (the doers) are attempting to assume the role of the leader. The doers are doing that out of frustration. They do it clumsily because they don’t have the authority to make the minimalists comply. The minimalists know their peers lack the authority and take pleasure in frustrating the doers.

If the leader does nothing, the situation will not get better. The doers will get increasingly frustrated and angry. Some will leave for a better situation. The minimalists will continue to be a drag on performance. What can you do to keep the good folks and improve the others?

In a perfect world, we want people on our team to get along and work together. We don’t live in a perfect world. Each individual has an outlook that was formed by their past experiences. How each person interprets past experiences dictates how they think, how they are motivated and, therefore, how they behave. We can’t do much about past experiences or what a person thinks.

Contrary to many academic leadership gurus, I say we should not focus on what a person thinks. We should care about the behaviors a person exhibits. If you’ve been reading my columns, my book, or attended any of my workshops, you know that I advocate for having clear direction and guidance.

The first thing the leader needs to do is to ensure that direction and guidance specifies what behaviors are required. Often, if you look at your guidance, you will find ambiguities, gaps, and overlaps; all of these allow people to interpret what they can/should do. Doers take the intent of the direction and guidance and do the right things, perhaps not in a consistent way. Minimalists look for the ambiguities, gaps, and overlaps as a means to do less, or “poke the bear” (i.e., get back at management or their doer peers).

Put guidance in writing. Have the people that will be required to follow the guidance participate in crafting or improving it. But the leader approves and authorizes it. Formally authorizing guidance makes it official. When guidance is in writing it can be enforceable, and used both for training and for reference when there are questions.

The second thing a leader needs to do is to notice whether the guidance is being followed. Be attentive. Pay attention by actually walking around, making observations and comparing behaviors with the guidance.

The third thing a leader must do is to be assertive. Give people that are performing the right behaviors overt, descriptive, positive reinforcement. People that are not performing correctly should be given private, descriptive, corrective feedback. In my experience, this is a weak area for many supervisors and managers. Many have never been properly trained or supported in giving and receiving feedback. It can be uncomfortable or intimidating when you’re not trained in it.

While it would be great if everyone was in the doer category, it is unrealistic to believe we can make everyone behave that way. Don’t create the conditions for doer and minimalist conflict. Do define standards for behaviors, and become an expert at being attentive and assertive.

Go forth and do great things.

Human Capital

This article is part of our monthly Human Capital column. Read more from Tom Moriarty.

About the Author

Tom Moriarty | P.E., CMRP, President of Alidade MER, Inc.

Tom Moriarty, P.E., CMRP is president of Alidade MER, Inc., a consulting firm specializing in asset management, reliability engineering, and leadership improvement. He is a member of SMRP (Florida Chapter Board Member and CED Director), a past Chair of ASME’s Canaveral Florida Section, and author of the book “The Productive Leadership System; Maximizing Organizational Reliability”. He has a BSME, an MBA (organizational development), is a licensed professional engineer (PE) in Florida, and a Certified Maintenance and Reliability Professional (CMRP). Contact him at [email protected], (321) 773-3356, or via LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/alidade-mer.

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