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Oh Sh*t! Not in Kansas Anymore

Okay, you asked for it. I am angry and think this is a waste of time! People have had lots to say about how I have not done my job, but no one says any of it to me in person. Why should I trust these people?

” Toms’, tone was loud, and as he spoke, his fist hit the table.

Oh Sh*t! Moment (for us)

The silence that followed seemed like minutes. I knew this was a critical moment in the success or failure of the team meeting, and I, as the management consultant and facilitator, needed to say something that would ensure a growth opportunity did not slip by. Tom was a senior member of the team, responsible for a critical project that had failed.

I didn’t like that Tom was yelling, nor that he had hit the table. However, I was glad that something ‘real, raw and honest’ was being said. For the better part of the morning the team had been in artificial harmony and, frankly, very little was accomplished.

“Tom, I get that you are angry, and even though I am uncomfortable with the volume and your fist hitting the table, I am glad you spoke honestly.” I said.

Tom looked at me, weighing his response.

“I think I have the most to lose here, and why should I be interested in trying to fix the damage done? Apparently, it has been my lack of leadership and mismanagement that has resulted in most of our current issues. People around this table basically think I am stupid.”

His voice was still strong but a definite shift in tone.“

Look Tom, “ I said, “if you really were going to be fired do you think you would have gotten a seat at the table today? I doubt people think you are stupid. They may well have some concerns about how you have been doing your job. If you really want a straight answer on that, then now is the time to ask for it.”

Oh Sh*t! Moment (for Tom and the team)

The group we were working with was an educational leadership team. They had been ignoring the team’s interpersonal issues for a long time. Their efforts to only have appropriate and respectful meetings had resulted in mounds of underground tension, making forward progress on team business issues almost impossible.

Again, the ensuing silence went on forever. However, Tom stepped back into the mess, asking for honest, open feedback.

What followed was some straight talk about a number of things that Tom had done in his department that more than one person thought was manipulative and undermining to the greater leadership team goals. However, no one thought Tom was stupid. People were upset and angry about things that Tom had been doing. However, no one knew how, or felt like it was okay, to speak up about such uncomfortable, negative judgments. So it just went underground. Everyone knew there were issues, and Tom definitely knew people were upset.

After the team unloaded the hard straight feedback, Tom wanted a break. After the break, Tom acknowledged that hearing the honest opinions and having a chance to listen and integrate what he had heard, was enough to bring him back to the table.

Tom acknowledged and ultimately agreed with all of the interpretations. He shared with the team his feelings on being overwhelmed with the demands of his position and, at the risk of appearing incompetent, had been uncomfortable asking for help. Instead, he tried to do everything on his own and had indeed let a few very critical issues slip. As a result, the project had failed.

Of course, everything was not fixed immediately. But the dynamics on the team were very different after that interaction. The team committed to engaging in conflict, even if it might get messy and ‘disrespectful’. They each agreed to speak up and call each other out on unproductive behaviors.

In a follow up session we learned that one team member, not Tom, left in the next four months. The remaining team stayed and has continued to work on building a cohesive team that thrives on healthy conflict even when it isn’t comfortable.

CrisMarie Campbell and Susan Clarke

Coaches, Business Consultants, Speakers and Authors of The Beauty of Conflict

CrisMarie and Susan work leaders and teams, couples in business, and professional women.

They help turnaround dysfunctional teams into high performing, cohesive teams who trust each other, deal with differences directly, and have clarity and alignment on their business strategy so they create great results.

Check out their website: Connect with CrisMarie and Susan on LinkedIn. Watch their TEDx Talk: Conflict – Use It, Don’t Defuse It! Find your copy of The Beauty of Conflict: Harnessing Your Team's Competitive Advantage here.

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