If you find yourself saying this or something similar, it may be comforting to know that this problem is not uncommon. It can easily happen, for example, when a company owner exits the business and leaves it in the hands of a new or existing senior team. These people can suddenly find themselves working with people they wouldn’t necessarily have chosen as a business partner, and who might have very different ideas on how to run the business.
If the situation doesn’t resolve itself by someone leaving, then common ground needs to be found, so that the business can move forward without being crippled by disagreements at the top.
Start with the business plan
It’s in everyone’s interest to find that common ground. Regardless of the relationship between the senior team members, you all have that common goal of wanting the business to succeed. In order to do that, you need a strategic plan that everyone is on board with.
Find neutral territory
Mark Davies, HR Director at People Puzzles, suggests doing this somewhere off-site, preferably in private (ie a meeting room rather than a coffee shop), where all parties are on neutral ground and can speak freely.
Use an independent facilitator
It’s also very important to have an independent person facilitating the meeting, who can ensure that everyone gets a fair hearing. Mark has chaired several meetings of this kind and finds that discussing the business plan is a good way to get the team focused on the importance of being able to work together. ‘I’ll often ask if they want to explore the friction between them in conjunction with the business planning process,’ he says. ‘I then point out that it’s important to have a degree of harmony between the different functions in order to achieve their business goals.’
Honesty is the best policy
All of this is impossible if your team is unable to be as upfront, honest and frank with each other. ‘Opening up is the difficult part,’ says Mark. ‘It’s hard not to be defensive, but having a facilitator can really help, as does being off-site and away from the day-to-day demands of the business.’
Being direct isn’t always easy either, and not everyone will respond positively. ‘There may well be tension at first,’ says Mark. ‘But it’s important to encourage everyone to be very open and honest. If the team are able to feed back openly they’re more likely to clear the air.’ Mark recommends following up a session like this with two more over the course of the year to check in with the business plan and assess how things are getting on.
Training can sometimes help ease tensions in running a business as managers become less stressed about the challenges of their role. Mark recommends management coaching to those who have not run a business before. ‘New directors will often need support in managing situations that are new to them,’ he says.
Even when the business plan has been agreed there may still be some sniping, especially if the team members have very different characters. However, if the team is focused on working to the agreed strategic plan, the business has a good chance of succeeding.
‘You really don’t have to be best mates with the other people on your team,’ says Mark. ‘It is possible to put differences aside to focus on the needs of the business and make a success of it regardless of whether you get on. In some ways, it’s preferable – I’ve seen many childhood friends and families mixing business with pleasure and that can cause its own problems!’
Mark Davies, HR Director