Dueling Managers Clash; Everyone Else Is Caught in the Cross-fire

Question:

As Chief Operating Officer for our company, I oversee five managers. They’ll all talented and hardworking. Two, however, don’t play well with others, particularly each other.     

Each acts like a Sheriff. The joke around here is “don’t get caught in the cross-fire.” Each has an incessant need to be right. Each tries to have the last word in every argument. Both talk over and undercut each other in Zoom meetings.  

Although their departments need to work together, neither manager makes it easy for her employees to work with those in the other’s department. When the employees in either department help employees from the other department, it’s always done “under the radar.”

Despite their flaws, our CEO is loyal to them, as both have been with the company for a long time. I took the situation to him, and he told me, “I know, fix it.”  

I’ve tried talking to each. Each complains about the other. Since their departments need to coordinate, the strife between the two needs to be addressed. I need a magic bullet.

Answer:

Meet with each manager. Ask each what her goals are for her department and what her department needs from the other department to succeed. If either says “nothing,” don’t let her off easy. These ladies have thrown their weight around long enough.

Ask each what she can do to meet the other half-way. If either can’t answer this question, say she needs to think about that. Ask her to bring you at least one answer by the next day.

After you’ve had these meetings, debrief your CEO, outline a game plan (described below) and get his blessing.

Next, let each know your CEO authorized a mediation. Ask each to fill out a worksheet prior to mediation. The worksheet asks the manager to respond to four open-ended statements. These include: “the conflicts I have with the other manager;” “the way I’d like the situation to be;” “what I’m willing to do” and “my assumptions about the other.” Ask each to respond to the statements from first their perspective and then from the other’s perspective. This worksheet gets each dueling manager thinking from the other’s perspective.

Follow-up with each and ask how she did on the assignment. If either says, “I have no idea what the other thinks,” explain “we’re going to fix that.”

Next, mediate. During the meeting, ask each to listen when the other speaks and to word her comments respectfully. Let both know you need them to improve their cooperation. Tell them they need to agree on how they and their departments interact.

Don’t end the meeting until you and they have outlined clear operating agreements as specific as “if you send me an email asking a question, I’ll respond with an answer within 24 hours.” Include agreements for how they’ll guide their employees to cooperate with and help employees from the other’s department. If you need his “managerial amen” to get through any rough spots in this meeting, ask your CEO to sit in.

Close the meeting by asking both managers to commit to what they’ve agreed to. Most importantly, follow up afterward to ensure your dueling supervisors “play well.”

© 2020, Lynne Curry

Lynne Curry is the author of “Beating the Workplace Bully” (AMACOM, 2016, https://amzn.to/30V5JO6) and “Solutions”, https://amzn.to/2GYlnAN (both books are rated 4.8 out of 5 stars on Amazon.com). Send your questions to her at lynnewriter10@gmail.com, visit her @ www.communicationworks.net or follow her on twitter @lynnecurry10.

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2 thoughts on “Dueling Managers Clash; Everyone Else Is Caught in the Cross-fire

  1. Great suggestions Lynne. This is a really sticky situation. I wonder how much motivation the two troublemakers have to resolve the issue. Hopefully, the CEO would add a mandate to those two managers saying an environment where teams need to sneak around to communicate is unacceptable. I would think the managers need an incentive to change their ways.

    1. Leslie, excellent point — without motivation, these two won’t easily change, As a coach I often find that individuals who are problematic at work make changes when the changes coaching offers pay off personal dividends, so I regularly rely on finding that “hook.”

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