Communication and Conflict Issues Between Work Groups

Overview:

The following ‘mini’ cases all pertain to an HR team in a large national professional services firm.  This particular group was responsible for organizational development and learning – assessing needs, designing and delivering programs/courses to meet the technical training and management/leadership development needs of the firm.  Housed together in a high rise office building, the team had several sub-groups each of which had their own focus primarily organized around the work process flow beginning with needs assessment and ending with program evaluation.  Communication and highly efficient co-ordination of their work was critical to their success in meeting the needs of their clients.  Building their reputation for providing value add, seamless service was also seen as key as there was a rumor that the leadership was considering sub-contracting this function.

Case 1: Communication and Conflict Issues between the Sub-groups

Problem:

The Learning Group was comprised of 21 individuals who were divided into sub-teams with a few individuals considered part of more than one team.  The sub-team accountabilities included needs assessment, business unit learning consulting, course design, delivering or brokering delivery of courses, managing an LMS, course evaluation, etc.  The whole group had worked hard to identify optimal work flow, key hand off points and clear deliverables for each sub-team but was still running into difficulty communicating particularly when inevitable problems or glitches arose.

Action:

This firm had been using the Team Management Profile in executive coaching initiatives and decided to complete the TMP questionnaire and incorporate it into an offsite focused on team development and performance.  The purpose of the session was to re-align around their overall purpose and develop more effective communication and work flow capabilities.  Two primary areas of focus were planned:

  1. Work with the Types of Work model to better understand the work of the different sub-teams and to clarify overall areas of strength and opportunities for improvement, and
  1. To plot the results of the TMP to create both sub-team and overall team profiles looking to understand if and/or how work preferences were contributing to their current team dynamic.

Outcomes:

  • Work at the sub-team level to describe their work using the Types of Work model and make presentations helped everyone see how distinct and focused the work of the various sub- teams was ranging from the primarily West wheel focus of the learning consultants to the focused South-East wheel focus of the events management group.
     
  • Each sub-group worked on the implications of the TMP work preference data for their own group then again reported out on their discussions.  They began to report out insights regarding interpersonal and communication challenges between individual team members.  Bringing the data together to create a large group profile was done using different colors for each sub-group. Each sub-team profile reflected significant consistency with the nature of their work – that is, there was a relatively strong match between the work requirements and the work preferences of each sub-group.
  • Further discussions led to the conclusion that, while the diversity of the group may represent an opportunity, it was contributing to mis-communication, mis-understanding and conflict – particularly in times of great pressure to deliver on spec. on time.  In these times, the sub-groups were locking into ‘group think’ and focused more on shifting the blame than working together towards solutions.
     
  • The group spent the remainder of the day focusing on the skills associated with the Linking function – building in systems to facilitate better communication including a metric to measure their progress on a monthly basis.  All agreed that the day had helped them understand their differences and commonalities and given them a chance to practice some new approaches of communication.

Case 2: More Effective Meetings

Problem:

Regular meetings were critical to ensure seamless transitions as the learning projects progressed.  However, meetings tended to be long, tedious and often unproductive. 

Action:

The team decided to build on their off-site and use the Types of Work model as a framework to structure their meetings.  This worked similar to the way Edward deBono’s work, The Six Thinking Hats was developed to help the group‘s focus during meetings through the creation of parallel thinking.  For example, designating a specific time frame to consider the Advising function where everyone in the meeting is focused on gathering information – what information do we need?  Have we missed anything here?  What assumptions are we making?  Another period of time would be set aside for the Innovating function and then other work functions as necessary.

Outcomes:

It took the group awhile to develop this discipline. 

  • Focusing their meetings this way prevented people from working at cross purposes (i.e. one individual in information gathering (Advising) mode, another in assessing risk (Developing) mode and still others in moving forward (Organizing) mode).  Research has shown that many meeting dysfunctions are due to this tendency of people to think and work from their own perspective which is often informed by preference.  By designing their meetings with a time bound focus on the various work functions meeting effectiveness increased considerably.  Planning meetings especially benefited from this approach.
     
  • The overall team and some sub groups discovered that holding brief meetings focused on just one or two functions were highly efficient.  For example, a stand-up meeting at the beginning of a particularly crucial day in the life of a project to ensure everyone was on the same page.
  • Using the Types of Work wheel in this way also kept the language of the TMS models alive and helped the group follow through on their off-site work commitments.
  • After experimenting within their own group, the learning consultants put together an online mini-course describing the concept for their business unit clients

Case 3: Behavioral Interviewing

Opportunity:

Several job openings were coming up due to attrition, growth and family leave.  The team leader was aware of the overall TMP team profile with a heavy concentration on the East Wheel preferences.  Also noted was the tendency for preference ‘clusters’ within the sub-teams. 

Action Taken:

Everyone had agreed that their specific sub-group risked group think – particularly in times of pressure.  As the TMP questionnaire identified preference only, it was understood that the tool could not be used as a screening device.  However, going back to both the Types of Work model and the four measures of work preference, they decided to incorporate behavioral interview questions that would help them recruit people with south-west wheel skills and experience.  Focusing initially on the work functions of Inspecting, Maintaining, Advising as well as the work measures of introverted approach to relationship, beliefs-based approach to decision making and a flexible approach to organization, they developed some generic behavioral interviewing questions to seek out the specific skills and capabilities associated with these areas.

Outcomes:

The process of developing this approach was highly informative to the group:

  • They recognized their prior tendency to hire people like themselves and the challenge that would be presented if indeed they began recruiting individuals who would be more likely to challenge the status quo.
  • They also recognized they had had a fairly strong bias toward the extrovert – a bias that was reflected in their entire recruitment/hiring/on-boarding process.  They wondered whether they might have screened out some excellent candidates because of this and began working to modify their interviewing process.
  • After working on the initial questions, they carried on to develop an inventory of questions associated with each function.
     
  • An unintentional benefit was the impact this process had on clearer role descriptions.
     
  • The group began to consider using the Types of Work profile (a multi-rater job analysis questionnaire based on the Types of Work model) to formalize a means to ensure role clarity and align job expectations as well as to inform the performance management process.

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