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Are You a Problem or are You a Solution?

October 02 2017 - by Dr. Lois Parkes, CLP's Regional Project Manager

Consider the following three (3) stories. First, a senior leadership position in the team was advertised, and was filled by someone external to the organisation. One of the long-serving team members, Mary, had applied for the position but was unsuccessful, and consequently very disappointed. Once the new leader was engaged, many conflicts arose between the new leader and the disappointed team member. Soon there were a series of email wars going back and forth, and side meetings. The CEO and Assistant CEO were soon being called upon frequently to listen to the complaints, quell the conflicts, and eventually to create new reporting relationships in order to maintain peace and productivity in the team.

The second scenario: John is a team member who is notoriously challenging to work with. After a while, other team members start to devise ways and means of working around him. For example, giving him tasks that require limited interaction and collaboration with others.

The third scenario: Julie has a reputation for micromanaging every last task to be carried out by her team. All decisions have to be routed through her, and to make matters worse, she is a perfectionist, indecisive and poor at giving specific feedback. This creates bottlenecks, delays and absolute frustration among team members. Once it is known that this senior team leader will be overseas on duty travel, other team members delay certain tasks, until she is absent, so that matters can be dealt with expeditiously.

In all of these scenarios, each of these protagonists will probably offer an explanation of their behaviour. Mary may tell you that the new person is incompetent and creating all of these challenges. John’s opinion might be that people do not like him because he is forthright, and tells it as it is. Julie may be adamant that she is ultimately accountable when things go wrong, and as such has to sign off on everything.

While there might be a great deal of truth in each explanation, all three have a common challenge – they are perceived and are showing up as problems for their team members and, perhaps, other stakeholders. Interactions with them require informal or formal meetings where time is spent discussing their behaviours and the negative impacts they are creating. Also, effort has to be made in formulating strategies for mitigating their negative impact, which often detracts from organisational goals and resources.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • Do you find yourself frequently calling, emailing and sending texts to complain and seek the intervention of your supervisor or others to complain about other persons or about work?
    • If yes, what could be the possible impact of this behaviour?
  • Do you have to frequently seek third-party intervention to deal with conflicts?
  • Are you called into meetings to deal with conflicts with the other party with whom you have a conflict, or does your supervisor feel the need to always meet with you separately?
  • Do you have to be reassigned to report to another manager, or have been reassigned tasks because of a conflict?
  • Do you find yourself being left out of the loop, meetings, and communication about key projects?
  • Do you find that significant decisions are made and tasks completed in your absence?
  • If any of the above are applicable to you, how have to contributed and accepted responsibility?

Depending on your responses to the questions posed, it may be time to reassess how you are showing up as a leader and/or team player. Conflict is an inevitable and even healthy part of daily living. However, persons are generally hired to provide solutions to challenges. If you are creating more challenges than you are providing solutions, then you are a problem, not a solution. No matter the justification you may be able to provide for your behaviours and reactions, if your team members, managers and other stakeholders see you as a problem, you will continue to experience conflict, lack of productivity and general unhappiness. Ask yourself – am I a problem or am I a solution?

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Margaret Richardson - Reply

Thank you for this timely and insightful discussion, Lois. It certainly puts the problem (no pun intended) into perspective. I particularly like the use of the targeted cases to demonstrate the workplace dilemma with which we are so familiar.

It is often difficult for an individual who is viewed as a problem rather than a solution to see him/ herself in that light. It appears to be even more challenging for us to share the helpful feedback that the individual may need. Further, our organisations' tendency to promote to management/team leader status persons who may be competent (even exceptional) workers but who possess interpersonal communication challenges exacerbates the problem and creates frustration and demotivation within the organisation.

Perhaps an area of change we need to consider for our region's Public Services is the development of user-friendly testing instruments and focused training solutions to reduce the incidence of the issues detailed in the cases ...

Lois Parkes

Dear Margaret, 

Thanks for your feedback. Your response really highlighted the importance of effective recruitment and selection practices within our organizations.