Problem with staff getting along

May 16, 2014 

In order that people may be happy in their work, these three things are needed: they must be fit for it, they must not do too much of it and they must have a sense of success in it -- not a doubtful sense, such as needs some testimony of others for its confirmation, but a sure sense, or rather knowledge, that so much work has been done well, and fruitfully done, whatever the world may say or think about it.

-- W.H. Auden

Frequently you have to deal with staff members who do not get along. This is one of those things that is just part of human nature. However, you cannot ignore these problems because they will only get worse. This type of discord can affect the entire organization, and your staff learns that you are an ineffective leader when you do not take action.

I was managing two strong-willed men who were both new to their management positions. Both were very talented but complete opposite personalities. One of them was very outspoken. The other one was much quieter, but determined to be successful. Neither liked the other very much, but they were promoted at the same time to positions that required them to work together for the good of the company.

In just four months, conflicts began rising to the surface. I knew if I ignored them, the problems would only get worse, so I talked to both men individually first. I thought bringing them together might cause the problem to escalate right before my eyes.

I told each man one-on-one that I had observed this bad behavior and that it was affecting the entire organization. I told them that they did not have to like each other but they did have to learn to work together. This early on, I felt it would have been overkill to talk about consequences, so I just said I would be watching them to ensure this happened.

As it turned out, both men got the message with

out needing any further action. They still did not really like one another, but they learned to cooperate and work together for the good of the organization. Had the bad behavior not changed, however, I would have had to explain to them that continuing this way would have meant risking their jobs.

There are many ways of dealing with disagreements and personality incompatibilities within your staff. The critical point here is that you need to deal with these issues before they grow.

Jerry Osteryoung, a consultant to businesses, is Jim Moran professor of entrepreneurship (emeritus) and professor of finance (emeritus) at Florida State University. Reach him at

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