When department heads collide

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John O'Connor
John O'Connor

Your marketing director wants to unveil a new campaign that is just about guaranteed to lift your occupancy levels to unprecedented heights. She's certain that it will work and that it should kick off without delay.

But your operations manager is putting on the brakes, again. The campaign is based on promises that may not be possible to deliver with existing staff, he insists. Both are adamant that they are right — and that the other person is undermining the organization's success.

The animus between the combatants has been brewing for quite a while. At this point, it might take an act of Congress to get them to agree on what day it is. What is it with these two? And why are they always at each other's throats?

Sound vaguely familiar?

If it's any consolation, it's a scenario that plays out in this field with alarming regularity. And at many senior living communities, the executive director tends to get caught in the middle. Usually, resolution is sought on a case-by-case basis. But if new research is to be believed, a better option exists.

According to Ginka Toegel and Jean-Louis Barsoux of IMD, a proactive stance that anticipates and heads off conflict before it becomes harmful is what needs to happen. They suggest that you introduce an approach that focuses on how people look, act, speak, think and feel. By facilitating five conversations — one for each category — before the team gets under way, collaboration is far more likely, they claim. Full findings, published in the Harvard Business Review, appear here.

“Though setting aside time for these conversations up front might seem onerous, we've found that it's a worthwhile investment for any team,” they wrote.

This is hardly some New Age mumbo jumbo. The authors have spent more than a quarter century researching team dynamics. They have also coached teams in Fortune 500 corporations and taught thousands of executives at some of the world's leading academic institutions. It would appear they have more than a clue.

Look, it's not required that you end all team conflict. When differing views are raised in a supportive environment, great things can happen: festering problems can get resolved and new opportunities may be unearthed. But when conflicting views devolve into anger-based turf wars, nobody really wins. That is, unless the goal is to crush productivity and innovation.

John O'Connor is editorial director of McKnight's Senior Living. Email him at john.oconnor@mcknights.com.

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