How this business turned team conflict into team work

“Don’t speak to me like that again mate”

You could have heard a pin drop. In fact, if they weren’t standing around in a circle in the back of a large mechanical workshop, you could have heard everyone hold their breath.

A very tall and very intimidating looking mechanic had just told his much younger service manager what many others had been thinking as part of a new habit being implemented by me, their ‘Business Wingman’.

The manager was inexperienced and in an effort to lead the service team, was speaking down to them, micro managing and being increasingly demanding without justification.

A few months before this team meeting confrontation, the business owners, clients of mine and a husband and wife team, had decided their team needed a revamp.

Productivity was down, morale was low, customer satisfaction was suffering and so was the bottom line.  

They had been implementing marketing strategies and workshop efficiency systems, but without the team pulling together it wasn’t having the effect they needed.

The owners took my advice and with some reservations, agreed to implement ‘sharing sessions’ into their weekly team meetings.  

Basically a speaking circle, drawn from tribal cultures, these open sharing sessions were to open every meeting.

Each person standing in the circle takes their turn in sharing what they feel like.  

From things like “I had a great weekend and I’m looking forward to getting xyz job finished this week” to “Mate. If you speak to me like that again I can’t promise what I will or won’t do…”

The key to these sessions is that every person has the floor while it’s their turn.

No interruptions.

No rebuttals.

No invalidation.

Until everyone has their turn there’s no to and fro.  This begins to teach everyone to listen and wait their turn, removing much of the aggression and lengthy debates that seem to factor in most meetings and other interactions in a busy team.

While the Service Manager did justify his actions when it was his turn to ‘share’ that day, he and the ex-military mechanic he’d upset actually went on to reconcile their differences once they realised how the other truly felt.

After the service manager and the outspoken mechanic each had a 1 on 1 session with me, both team members have improved their dynamic markedly.  

The mechanic now works alongside the Service Manager as 2IC, productivity has improved, team morale is the best it’s been in years and consequently, customer satisfaction and profits have increased too.

The key lesson is although it may be uncomfortable and confronting, open, honest and respectful communication is one of the most powerful ways to get a team working together effectively.

Regular team meetings, sharing sessions, a suggestions box, one on one time with the business owner and formal training sessions are all strategies I recommend as part of building and maintaining a winning team.