When employees stew in conflict, you can play referee. Or you can challenge combatants to attain a worthy goal by working together.
Refereeing a fight won’t bring about lasting peace. Lingering resentments will cause the conflict to resurface at some point.
But if you guide people to put aside their animosity in favor of collaborating on a high-visibility project, you create a positive atmosphere that breeds trust and focused effort. You want workers to become so engrossed in their activities that they don’t have time or energy to fight.
The best challenges double as dares. It’s as if you’re saying to combatants, “I know you don’t get along, but I dare you to combine forces to …”
For example, ask dueling co-workers to take two weeks to identify five steps your organization can take to cut delivery time by 10 percent. Or challenge them to contact 10 customers, conduct thorough surveys and then write a report that lists seven specific actions your team can take to upgrade service.
Assign projects that are easy to measure. Requesting numbered lists, percentage reductions in waste or other simple yardsticks helps employees stay on track and produce the output you want. Make it clear that if they don’t get along, that’s their problem and you will not accept it as an excuse for failure.
Ideally, you shouldn’t need to intervene once they plunge into their assignment. If you hold bickering employees accountable for completing the project—and they realize you value their contribution—you save yourself from the daily hassle of moderating their conflict. Their ill will may not vanish, but it’s likely to dissipate while they team up to accomplish their goal.