Working Closely Together

Working Closely Together

By Roger Schwarz

Roger Schwarz is a leadership consultant and organizational psychologist. From Smart Leaders, Smarter Teams: How You and Your Team Get Unstuck to Get Results (Jossey-Bass). ©2013

I used to say that who is sleeping with whom is not an undiscussable issue—it’s gossip—because an undiscussable issue has to be directly related to the team’s effectiveness. That was until I was consulting with the VP of sales for a high-tech company. The VP, whom I’ll call Roz, was working with her team to prepare for the annual conference that was the single largest sales generator for her organization. The team needed to work closely together to manage the conference work. Unfortunately, two members of the team were not talking with each other because one member had been having an affair with the other member’s wife. Most if not all of the team members knew about the situation. The team members tried to act as if nothing was happening, but communication and planning were breaking down. Roz feared that the team would get to the conference, not make sales, and miss the company’s revenue targets.

As much as Roz didn’t want to raise the issue, she realized that not raising the issue was a bigger risk. First she spoke with her two team members who were directly involved in the affair. She told them why the team needed to deal with this issue. Then together they met with the full team. The focus of the conversation was to jointly figure out how they were going to work together closely in the challenging situation. To identify the problem and plan how to address it, the team had to discuss the undiscussable—the affair—but the heart of the conversation was about how to work together.

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