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Create harmony in a conflicted leadership team

Personality clashes don’t have to mark the end of a leader’s tenure.

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It’s been said leadership is lonely, but in reality, leaders are more often than not part of a leadership team that must function like a well-oiled machine.

And like a machine, if any single part malfunctions, the domino effect takes everything down. Conflict within leadership teams can happen for a variety of reasons, but it is often the result of personality clashes. In my years of working as an executive coach and psychologist, I have had many requests from clients to intervene and alleviate conflict within leadership teams. What I have found is that these conflicts tend happen — particularly in family-owned businesses — when a new person is brought in from outside of the company or family to assume a leadership position.

These individuals often come in with stellar reputations and a track record of proven success, but technical expertise alone is an insufficient skill for leaders. A culture fit is just as important. Determining how someone will fit with your team on a personality and culture level, though, is much tougher to distinguish prior to hiring them. Inevitably, personality clashes may happen, and the company will become dysfunctional if something isn’t done about it. Luckily, much can be done to alleviate these situations — rather than firing a new executive and starting all over.

Yes: another team meeting

I know, when you hear “team meeting” your eyes roll. Executives are always in meetings, and not always in productive ones. Most people hate meetings. But that’s not an indictment on meetings, it’s an indictment on the lack of well-structured, productive meetings. In the case of an executive personality clash or other issue, a well-structured team meeting can be the difference between a failed hire and one who goes on to move the company forward successfully. Here’s a look at how I like to arrange team meetings to identify and alleviate issues within a leadership team:

The Meeting Prep

Going into a meeting without pre-planning and information gathering is a surefire way to have an unproductive meeting. I start the prep by doing separate interviews with all the people involved. These interviews allow each individual to speak their mind in a safe setting without worrying about what the other team members will think. Next, I will often have each of the team members take an assessment test like Myers-Briggs to determine each individuals’ communication style. Interviews and assessments provide the information needed to make the meeting productive instead of a finger-pointing session. Once this information is collected, I outline measurable goals to reach in the meeting itself and set an agenda.

The Meeting

Introduction and overview: Lay out the agenda, goals and expectations of the meeting. Get everyone in the right mindset to have a productive day.

Communication style review: Going into a review of each participant’s Myers-Briggs score can be a real eye-opener for those in attendance. When people learn each other’s communications styles, they become more empathetic and thoughtful toward those they may have clashed with. This sets up a positive environment to work out differences.

Mission, vision and goals: A company’s culture is driven by its mission, vision and goals. The company owner or CEO will share these with the team, so we have an anchor point for figuring out how to get everyone on the same page.

Company culture discussion: I like to dive into a discussion on what constitutes the company’s culture, and what shared goals should be driving the actions of leadership. These further cement an expectation for how leadership should act.

SWOT Analysis: Just like a company would do a SWOT analysis for its business operations, we create the same analysis for how to achieve business goals internally. This is where we start to work through the issues plaguing the leadership team and get everyone rowing in the same direction.

Wrap up, next steps: Hopefully, we’ve made some great strides during the meeting, but there is always more work to be done. Before we end the meeting, I like to lay out where we’ve been, where we’re going, and what’s expected of each team member going forward.

The Aftermath

These team meetings are intended to allow myself and the team to view personality clashes and other issues from a completely objective viewpoint, and help each leader understand how their behavior impacts their peers — and the bottom line. After the meeting, each team member walks away with their own personal behavioral goals to meet. And while these meetings can be very effective, they are not going to eliminate all the issues in a day. That’s why I schedule regular follow ups with each individual to help them grow into a new behavior and stay on track with their goals.







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