Boss, Business Owner, Referee, and Babysitter

Boss, Business Owner, Referee, and Babysitter

Building a business from an idea to a functioning, profitable organization takes a lot of hard work and skill. Even if your business seemed to blossom in a short period of time, there are still trials. Building the structure is only the first milestone. You still have to maintain it to prove your success. For the really ambitious, there is always the next level of growth and success to mount.

One of the greatest challenges to building a business is bringing other people into the business. Every business owner reaches a point where he cannot do it alone. With the limited number of hours in a day and just the two hands, a business owner has limitations. So he hires some more hands, puts on a second shift, and keeps moving forward.

Fantasy business building may work that way, but here on planet Earth there is much more to it. Growing your business is not just about hiring a few people. First you have to create an organizational structure with job titles, defined tasks and a hierarchy of reporting.

As a business owner, you have to communicate your vision to the other people in the organization, and you need to let go of some control. It is much easier to do everything yourself than to delegate tasks and trust they will be completed according to your timetable and standards. Employees are no good to you if you end up watching them while they work or re-doing all of their work once they finish.

Structure is the Easy Part 

Let’s assume for today’s purposes that setting up the organizational structure is easy. In fact, let’s say it is already done. Now, all you have to do is hire the people to do the jobs. That should be easy enough, right?

In a textbook world, it certainly would be. But in reality, it requires adding humans to your equation. Humans are wonderful, complex, sophisticated creatures who make up the necessary elements of our social fabric. They are also necessary for growing your business. And, most of all, they are messy, unique, independent creatures who will bring both the wonder and dismay to your world as a boss.

The Human Touch

Business and balance sheets are easy because they are full of constants. Numbers provide a predictable flow to your world of profit and loss statements. Two plus two equals four every time, regardless of the circumstances…or the time of day, the phase of the moon or the traffic conditions.

When you go from being a project manager to a manager of people, you have to apply a unique set of skills to be successful. Similar to a statistical margin of error, you need to factor in the human quotient. That is the likelihood that your team’s output will suddenly and inexplicable vary from past performance or future expectations.

Crying in the Office

Let’s face it, if you spend enough time working with people, there is likely to be some crying in the office. Human interaction can be unpredictable and messy. It brings up emotions some times, and those emotions can leak out.

When you manage a group of employees, a certain percentage of your time will be spent on interpersonal issues. It may not seem professional to you, and it certainly is not what you were trained to handle, but it happens. People will bring their conflicts to you, blame each other for lost productivity, and expect you to settle their fights.

The way you handle crying in the office will determine how much of it you end up dealing with. If you play into it, take sides or assign seating at weekly meetings to be sure no one has to sit next to anyone they don’t like, you will probably spend most of your days playing the peacemaker and the referee.

Here are some tips to de-escalating interpersonal conflict in the office, so you can maximize your team’s productivity:

Be empathetic — Ultimately, what drives these conflicts is our human imperfections. Try to recognize that your employees are not simply behaving badly for no reason. Something triggered emotional pain and it is coming out in aggression towards a co-worker.

Allow for bad days — Everyone has them. Sometimes you have to work around someone for a day or two until the cloud blows over. If the work performance becomes detrimentally low, consider inviting that person to suffer at home for the rest of the day to spare everyone else the bad mojo.

Model appropriate behavior — If you get angry or frustrated at work, do not take it out on your employees. Never betray confidences or engage in gossip of any sort. When you have a conflict with an employee, handle it swiftly, professionally and privately.

Expect adult behavior — As the boss, you are the glue that holds the team together, but that does not make it your job to fight everyone’s battles for them. When employees come to you with problems, offer some ideas for resolutions, but don’t get involved. Instead, let them work out their own conflicts. Of course, you could always act as a mediator if the situation calls for that.

Do not harbor fugitives — Avoidance or isolation are never the solution to employee conflicts. Do not separate employees who cannot get along with each other. Instead, assign them to the same project and make them work out their differences. Often, this is the nudge they need to face their issues and move past them.

Humans make the world wonderful and complicated at the same time. My approach is always to observe and examine the situation to try to understand what is motivating each side. It usually comes down to basic human instincts. Someone feels threatened and you are seeing their automatic response to that type of situation. Remove the threat and the fight will end.

If you want help understanding an employee conflict in your business, and figuring out the best way to address it, drop some details in the comments.

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