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serenade's avatar

How do I resolve this conflict (if at all)?

Asked by serenade (3779 points ) February 2nd, 2012

I’m leading a team doing work on a deadline. This is my first foray as a team leader. It’s in a field where I’ve been around for a while, but it’s not my formal training, and I’m working with people who are both more experienced and knowledgable. Most of them have worked with me before and know this is my first gig as a leader. I also have a “boss” who is mentoring me in this process, so I have help, but my “boss” and I tend to see things differently.

One member of the team who is relatively new to the group rather quickly revealed herself as a bossypants, and frequently tries to interject her own ideas and agenda. My boss recognized she’s a bossypants and intimated that I should not let Ms. Bossypants take the reins. Trouble is, I see inklings of value in Ms. Bossypants’ ideas—underneath her bossiness, she has some worthy ideas (or at least is making lots of effort). The problem is that her energy is too overbearing, her knowledge is a step or two ahead of mine, and I’m not experienced enough to know how to really deal her both in terms of the pros and cons she brings to the table. Mostly, my instructions are to not let her take the reins.

So, eventually this escalates to a day when I have an agenda scheduled which involves everyone in the group and in the middle of it, she wants to change it to her agenda. Her agenda is related to the project as a whole, and I can see that. I also see that underlying her bossiness are some unmet needs that would allow her to improve the quality of the work she is responsible for, etc. So after so much persistence from her and the clock running short, I acquiesce. But, I do it in such a way that really puts her on the spot to come up with answers (to illustrate that she needs to STFU already because time is ticking and her special time isn’t coming to any fruition).

So, the next day and the day after that she starts working “offline” with individual team members and together they work out improvements. The improvements definitely work and enhanced the overall project.

I don’t care to hold a grudge. I don’t care really about who was right, but I also don’t want to reinforce her bossiness with positive feedback (because it’s been shown that people with crappy behavior continue that behavior if they are rewarded). The way I see it, she had the right ideas, but couldn’t be heard both because of her bossiness and because of my inexperience and inability to integrate her particular style and talent into my agenda for the group. On the one hand, I can understand where she’s coming from, but on the other I hear multiple opinions that she’s noticeably bossy.

I would like to clear the air before the project ends, but again, I don’t want to be a schmuck for someone who also has some fault to admit to. I don’t think it would work for me to apologize for my own stuff and then say, “but you were bossy,” because I think one really needs to own up to one’s own behavior.

My place in this group is secure, by the way. I could just never apologize or whatever and she’d be the one to go if it came down to it. That’s not my goal for this interaction. Just a fact of the case.

Thoughts?

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10 Answers

augustlan's avatar

At this point, I’d probably wait until after the project is over (if the team can handle the bossiness in the meantime). After everything is over, schedule an evaluation talk with her, where you acknowledge that her ideas have value but point out that her methods leave something to be desired. Offer suggestions about how she could get her ideas across in a more appropriate way, such as approaching you directly and privately, or voicing her ideas in a team meeting that is expressly for the purpose of team brainstorming (while allowing others the opportunity to speak their minds as well).

BosM's avatar

Okay, I’ve led teams for 25 years and here is what I would do. First you need to have a private meeting with Ms. BossyPants (let’s call her MBP) and get the issues on the table. The easiest way to do this is to make it clear that this is about the team meeting its goals and each member of the team committing to that. It’s not about MBP, or getting her name in bright lights as a star on the Marquee.

Let her know that you’re setting the agenda but do welcome her input, or that of anyone on the team but you expect it before the meeting and you expect it delivered in a respectful, productive way. Remember, to gain committment you need to let people “weigh in before they can buy in”. So, asking your team for input into an agenda is a reasonable approach. Input means ideas are considered, but not every idea is adopted by the team.

If after this discusion MBP still disrupts meetings, or engages in back office politics, then pull her aside and tell her it’s not okay to do so and if she does it again you’ll be forced to take disciplinary action including removing her from the project.

Don’t kid yourself, MBP has an issue with you leading this team. Do not let her perpetuate the message – that she knows more and is more capable than you. She needs to respect that this is about a team working together to accomplish this goal and that each person brings value to the table.

This issue is about dealing with conflict in a productive way. MBP needs to work on her Conflict style, probably among other things and that is the message she needs to hear. Don’t be afraid to deliver it, because if you don’t she’ll continue to be a disruptive force in any team she is on. It’s not just about getting results, it’s how you go about it.

The advice your boss is giving you is correct. You need to reign in MBP, or, you will look weak in the eyes of the team. Read “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” by Pat Lencione. It will help you immensely in leading teams. Good luck with MBP and the project.

marinelife's avatar

Sit her down and talk about her approach. Tell her that you recognize that she has some positive contribution to make, but tell her method of presenting it sucks.

Tell her that in future you will not tolerate deviating from an agenda.

Coloma's avatar

Bossiness can be a form of bullying. I agree with @BosM‘s sharing. There are tons of articles online about how to deal with the various toxic personalities that show up in the workplace and our personal lives. Bossy bullies, passive aggressive my #1 most hated type lol

Good luck, this is why I am self employed these days, at 52 I have zero tolerance for difficult people anymore and workplace shennanigans! Bah! haha

6rant6's avatar

So let me see… she was right, she knew more than you, she stood up for her ideas, she convinced the other members of the team to go along, the team got the job done.

If you weren’t the one telling the story, wouldn’t she be the hero?

You want her to admit her short comings, but frankly, you haven’t convinced me she exhibited any. Even given that she has short comings, her admission of them is not as valuable to you as the lessons you should have learned from this experience. I hope you’ve picked up some of her knowledge, and now you know that everyone who opposes you is not necessarily your opponent or someone you need to put in their place. I’d say, “Thank you,” and be done with it.

BosM's avatar

@6rant6, there is a way for someone on a team to contribute without taking the approach that is disruptive, disrespectful, and demoralizing. People like MBP are more trouble than they are worth, thanking them for treating people like crap is the last thing to do.

6rant6's avatar

@BosM Obviously there’s a limit. But I’m guessing a man coming in a taking over and getting the job done right would be seen as a hero.

I once had a confrontation with another team member on an organization critical team. It basically came down to a difference in approach. Meetings were heated and long.

Then one day he came to my office and apologized for his stridency. He said that he recognized the value in my position and was glad I was on the team. I said the same to him, greatly relieved that the battle was behind us. We worked together well for years after that. And I always thought him the better man than I for making the initial move.

BosM's avatar

@6rant6 I understand your point, but gender has nothing to do with it. Spirited, respectful debate is highly encouraged, provided it’s done in a way that benefits the team, project, and ultimately leads to committment to an approach that everyone can support.

Once it becomes personal and about someone needing to be right, or about their personal goals/agenda then it’s destructive. Those people are more trouble than they’re worth and their behavior needs to be corrected for everyones sanity to remain intact as well as the health and success of the project.

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