Asked + Answered is a recurring feature in The Network. We pose reader queries about workplace and management matters to a panel of three Baton Rouge executive coaches and management consultants to get their take. Submit your questions anonymously.
What’s the best method for coaching my team not to get caught up in office drama?
Drama often sidetracks otherwise productive teams. Want to get your team back on track? It takes intentional focus to create a drama-resistant culture. Here are a few places to start.
Be a role model. Your team members are watching you and picking up on your behaviors. How well you communicate, manage conflict, and interpersonal relationships set the tone for your team.
Manage conflict productively. Don’t assume conflicts will fade with time. Face conflicts head on. Encourage honest direct conversations, personal accountability, and compromise as a path towards reestablishing trust.
Call out good behavior. Make sure your team members hear from you when you are see them supporting one another. Too often we give attention only to the negative, make sure you explicitly commend great examples of cooperation and good will.
Be explicit about goals and objectives. When employees know what is expected of them it’s easier for them to stay drama free. Help your team work cooperatively towards strategic goals by being explicit about where you are going together.
Dealing with drama in the workplace can be a real distraction and hurts morale and productivity. As your Executive Coach, I would encourage you to address it openly, honestly, and as a team.
First, some background on how to approach the team. The research on psychological safety in the workplace has built the case for allowing your employees to “speak freely” without fear of reprisal, rebuke, or retribution. This also means we do not tolerate disrespectful comments and conversations, thus there are guidelines and guardrails. Creating that environment for your employees results in higher engagement, more productivity, more innovation, and even reduced injuries at work; however, it is up to you as the boss to shape the culture of your team through consistent simple steps.
First, tell your employees why psychological safety in the workplace is important (see above), then ask open ended questions to spark conversation about the drama. Listen completely, empathetically, and avoid any judgment regardless of how much you may disagree with their observations and feelings. It is crucial you as the supervisor role model the behaviors you want from your team. Be prepared to address what you do want from your team, specifically how they will react to the drama around them.
Finally, ask your team to describe what behaviors build trust on the team to keep them “forward focused,” not mired in the negativity they are seeing around them. Be prepared to discuss this several times, as creating a culture where your employees can speak freely is continuous journey, not a one-and-done conversation. For a really deep dive into this topic, I recommend reading The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth by Dr. Amy Edmondson.
When you have strong, competitive people working together who care about their jobs and are passionate about what they do, you’re going to encounter conflicts at work. Some of this conflict is healthy, and you want to encourage your team to share their ideas and concerns when they disagree or have strong opinions. However, if these conflicts spill over into personal issues and disruption, you should address it like you address other behaviors that get in the way of results and a healthy work environment: Head on and directly.
Give feedback and coaching to employees who create or fuel it, and remind them about your expectations and company values around respect and trust. Consider getting your team together to give them an opportunity to discuss and agree on ground rules or a code of conduct that will decrease and eliminate negative and unproductive behaviors. Training workshops and teambuilding sessions centered around communication and team relationships can give everyone a common language and shared commitment.
Give your attention and appreciation to the natural and productive conflicts that energize professional co-workers. To those who disrupt work and antagonize others about non-work issues send a strong signal that they must change their behaviors for the good of the team and the organization, and ultimately for themselves.
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