Mutual Failure or Mutual Success?

If you have worked long you have likely seen a case where two individuals or departments within the same company appeared out to destroy one another. It is actually an easy trap to get caught in. Back during the Cold War between the U.S. and its allies with the USSR there was a phrase “Mutually Assured Destruction” (MAD for short). Essentially the idea served as a deterrent to both sides from launching a nuclear attack on the other as it was believed that in the end they both would be destroyed. Sometimes in business this MAD idea seems to be in play, except that it doesn’t work and both parties involved actually attempt to destroy the other by making the them look like a failure, especially in the eyes of others.

How Foolish Can We Get

I’m convinced that most companies get started with the best of intentions, certain that they will have management and employees that will work together for the benefit of both the company and those who work there. Seemingly without fail, somewhere along the line somebody or some department decides (perhaps deliberately) that they should run the show. Sometimes this is short lived as cooler heads prevail and the battle ends before it really gets going. Unfortunately, it is perhaps more common that others decide to retaliate in kind. Instead of acknowledging that cooperation is essential to avoid mutual failure, those who are involved do anything but cooperate.

This uncooperative approach can take many forms such as withholding critical information, providing only partial information, taking credit for others efforts or simply failing to give credit where credit is due, and perhaps the most destructive action of all of spreading rumors and half-truths. This in turn may get the other side to respond with their own destructive actions. Now think about this carefully. Each side is out to destroy the other and this is ultimately to their own detriment. How foolish can they get?

A Little Maturity Goes a Long Way

I recall one time where a couple of employees were constantly backbiting. It seemed as if every day they elevated the conflict to a new level and were determined to see the other one fail. This was truly a situation headed for mutual failure rather than mutual success. Not to sound unsympathetic, but if their manager stepped in and tried to resolve the conflict it was more likely the manager would be perceived by both individuals as taking the other’s side. That was not just a losing proposition for the manager, but it was also a one for them as well and probably would have made the situation worse. Being a referee was simply not a great option for the manager.

manager referee

So, what action was taken? One day both of them were called in to an office together. In a nutshell here is what the manager told them, “There is an ongoing conflict between the two of you, and it has become disruptive to everyone. I don’t know the details and don’t really need to. So, here is the deal. Stay in this office and work it out between the two of you. If it becomes apparent that it has not been resolved you will both be replaced. I don’t want to have to do that as I value you both, but in the end the choice is yours.” Sounds rather harsh, doesn’t it? But in the long run it would have been harsher to see one or both and perhaps others lose their jobs. Besides, don’t forget that someone else imposing their solution on the two of them stood a high likelihood of making one or both feel short-changed, perhaps causing them to turn on the person providing the solution, thus creating a whole new problem. You may be inclined to consider this manager to be a wimp for taking this approach, but I think they demonstrated great wisdom by providing a needed nudge, creating an environment for openly resolving differences, and letting the two employees do the heavy lifting.

Amazingly the two employees went from an attitude of mutual failure to mutual success. They suddenly realized that respect and cooperation was a better approach. It’s funny how that works when the only remaining alternative is unpalatable to either party. While they were not all of a sudden best friends, they had come to the realization that there was a better way.

How about your company? How do you resolve internal conflict? Is it ignored until it has taken a heavy toll? Is your company suffering because employee or departmental conflicts have people pulling in different directions?

If you want to know more, contact AimCFO – Contact

As always, your comments are welcomed.


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