INside Track: Tension Retention

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I once headed up a team responsible for developing a new product line. I remember dreading the group meetings because of 2 strong-willed members who were temperamentally and philosophically polar opposites. One was self-expressive, emotional and entrepreneurial, the other was conservative, disciplined and corporate. Both were passionate in their own ways and committed to excellence.

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The meetings were often tense as were the meetings after the meetings. At points I thought the team would fail because of the friction and frustration level that pervaded the early stages of the initiative. Fortunately, I began to discover I was wrong for 2 reasons. First, in spite of their differences, both refused to fail because of their aforementioned passion and need to excel which compelled them to compromise rather than let the group implode.

More important, though is the second reason. The very conflict that I feared and did at times occur, actually drove the final outcome beyond where it would have ended up had there not been disagreements.

This situation didn’t make things easy for me. It was like trying to contain and harness the power of a nuclear reaction. But it was part of my job description and it yielded just the kind of achievement the best teams are capable of.

4 thoughts on “INside Track: Tension Retention

  1. Kevin

    Andy,

    That sounds like a very familiar situation. Did you find that you sympathized with one party over the other? If so, how did you overcome any personal bias and manage the situation?

    1. Andy Epstein Post author

      Yes I did, Kevin. I never really overcame my bias – but I behaved in my interactions with them as if I had no preference. What helped me was to stay focused on the strengths of both and especially the individual with whom I didn’t relate to as well. For me, my highest priority as a manager is to bring out the best in my team and minimize the impact their weaknesses have on the group.

  2. Robin J

    How did you get them to stay focused on the job at hand vs. on each other’s argument? I have two people who are opposites and I know setting the page for what the meeting IS helps the idea killing by one, but I’m curious how you keep them from fighting for fighting sake.

    1. Andy Epstein Post author

      As you noted, I and the whole team, kept the purpose of our project and associated meetings, top of mind. That helped minimize the petty disagreements. Also, whenever the conversation would begin to devolve into unproductive infighting, I’d quickly redirect it and reframe the challenges in a less emotionally charged way that addressed the problem being discussed.

      I never called out either party on their behavior. In the past, when I tried that the offender got defensive and the whole meeting would get derailed. As a matter of fact, I went out of my way to complement the 2 when they behaved appropriately and came up with constructive criticism and productive ideas.

      I’ve also noticed that when I practice the redirect, reframe, refocus tactic, that others in the group use it with the 2 who were in conflict as well.

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