A Bigger Sandbox is not the Answer

“Why can’t they all just get along?”  I heard this question from a colleague the other day. She is working for a company where the leadership team does not play nice.  They fight amongst themselves and there are a few “leaders” (I use the word loosely) who have no compunction about publically bad-mouthing others on their team and in different departments.

Conflicting ideas and opinions are natural and to be expected when a diverse group of people, with different backgrounds, experiences and personalities work together.  Those differences have the potential to create strength and diversity, but in many cases, are instead used as weapons and to build walls.  Dysfunctional teams that do not disagree respectfully hinder growth; ideas stagnate, factions form and opposing camps battle against each other instead of working together to achieve success.

As a parent, I very quickly learned that my children needed a team working together on their behalf. That meant, that in some cases, meetings were held behind closed doors, differences of opinion discussed and decisions made. Sometimes, one team leader had to make concessions, sometimes it meant “agreeing to disagree” but in all cases, once the doors opened, a consistent, unified message was delivered.

This holds true in the workplace as well.  Opinions, insight and suggestions from a broad range of stakeholders are important, but just as important is a consistent, unified message once a decision has been made and everyone, regardless of their original viewpoint, needs to own their role in the organization’s success.

4 thoughts on “A Bigger Sandbox is not the Answer

  1. Hi Laurie,

    I really like the idea of having a good open discussion behind closed doors. I’ve seen times when employees agree with co-workers in meetings just to be polite, but they actually disagree with them! I think it’s a big problem if people can’t politely disagree without things getting personal. In a perfect world, it should be about the ideas and not about pride or egos.

    However, as you mentioned, I agree that it is very important that everybody is unified once a decision is made (as long as there isn’t something fundamentally wrong with the decision, like what happened at Enron, etc.). I’m big on listening to employees. But under normal circumstances I think employees need to do their best to support the decision that is made by the manager even if they don’t totally agree with it.

    In the situation you described, I think the executive those people report to should step in and put an end to the public bad-mouthing. However, I’m assuming this person knows about it which may or may not be the case. I’m also assuming that this person isn’t part of it. If they are and find this kind of behavior acceptable, my guess is that it’s unlikely things are going to get better there.

    • “It should be about the ideas and not about pride and ego.” That is a great way to put it. Unfortunately, in this case, the executive team simply does not work well together and there is a lot of in-fighting and pushing for power so I’m not sure how it will all work out.

  2. Nice post, Laurie!

    When I was once asked by a frustrated Administrative Assistant who was working with me on designing a leadership development program for her executive teams in a Fortune 20 company, she asked me “why can’t they all just play nice in the sandbox? After all, they are all so smart and educated. It seems like they could grow up and act like adults.”

    I explained that often times, professionals are not lacking in head-smarts, meaning: they are not knuckleheaded. I said that they are lacking in emotional intelligence, empathy, and common relationship sense, meaning: they are knucklehearted!”

    If you are interested, I fashioned this into a short slideshow explaining what happens when “adults” don’t play nice in their sandbox: http://www.slideshare.net/tommyland/the-knucklehearted-leader-344066


    • “Knucklehearted”… Love it. Thank you Tom for for stopping by and for sharing the link to your powerpoint. It really captured the importance of those “soft” people skills that make leaders, and their teams, great.

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