Struggling to work well with certain colleagues?
Find yourself having the same issues time and again despite promises to change?
If you identify yourself or a team member from the scenario below, then hopefully I have a few ideas which might make you reframe your approach and have more clear thinking to create a better, easier, and more collaborative relationship.
The story goes a little something like this:
Gina, an agency owner/founder, is embroiled in a long-term struggle to work productively with her colleague, let’s call her Marie.
Gina wants Marie to follow set processes. Processes which Gina believes are important and necessary to help the agency run smoothly, maintain consistent and excellent service levels and allow for effective resource planning. These processes might include anything from filling out of timesheets, to getting sign off on proposals to clients and other ‘back office’ tasks.
In principle, Marie has agreed to these processes. During meetings she acquiesces to the requests, nods, pays lip service, and appears to acknowledge the processes as part of her role. On leaving the meeting, Marie cracks on. She works hard and is clearly well-meaning, and yet she continues to ignore the processes set out by Gina. Another meeting happens, processes are revisited, and questions asked. Marie stands her ground, appealing she was ‘busy’ or ‘forgot’ before finally agreeing to ‘do them next time’. The meeting ends and, you guessed it, the problem repeats, nothing changes, and both parties are frustrated by each other – leading to not wanting to work together or even speak to each other.
This sort of interpersonal problem in the workplace is far from uncommon. In fact, I would bet my favourite gardening shears that every business, regardless of what it does or sells, has multiple frustrating relationships weaved amongst it.
In Gina and Marie’s instance, what was once a discussion about clear process for the good of the agency, has now become a battle of wills and a struggle for power and understanding.
When my client, Gina, called me to ask what I thought she should do, I asked her to consider this:
‘How can you help Marie?’
Gina didn’t understand. As a process driven individual, Gina was understandably sick of having meetings where they agreed to work better – only for that never to happen. But here’s the thing. Behaviours are notoriously hard to change, and so if Gina really wants Marie to alter how she works, she’s going to have to go about it in a different way.
Basically, the issues at work are around Marie, her time management, prioritisation and struggling to follow process. But they are also about Gina, her determination that things must be done in a certain way and her self-made belief that Marie is purposefully going against her wishes. All these things can be worked on.
So how can Gina help Marie – and in turn – herself?
Rather than just keep insisting she “follows orders” – a sure fire way to get someone’s back up especially if they are vocal and abhor being told what to do, Gina needs to go beyond that and see why she isn’t.
Spoiler, it’s almost definitely not because Marie enjoys pi**ing Gina off.
Let’s unpack some stuff:
To fix this relationship – Gina needs to start thinking about how both she and Marie can help each other change and collaborate. BUT (and this is important) collaboration isn’t necessarily just finding things to work on together, it’s collaborating on the ways in which you work together.
- Is the process to complex? If so, is there an easier way to get the same information which works for both Gina and Marie?
- Has Marie been involved in the making of the process? If not, could she be – would she feel more inclined to follow a process she had helped to design (the answer is yes, probably).
- Going deeper, how could Gina help Marie see the benefits of process, and when she does, help her to ‘make the time’ to follow them? Marie’s issue isn’t really time, her issue is change, and doing things differently (particularly those things you’ve done a certain way for years) is really hard. How could Gina help Marie approach the way she works differently so she is able to prioritise in such a way that she finds time to make these changes?
It’s tough, but it can be done.
Great collaboration is the fastest way to ensure cooperation. And essentially, it’s cooperation that Gina wants from Marie. Collaboration challenges people to think, articulate, and learn more about their competencies, which can help them build self-awareness and a better understanding of their strengths and weaknesses. This is exactly what both Gina and Marie need to achieve together.
Before assuming your colleague is doing things to irritate you or undermine you, consider how you might be able to help them – and really collaborate with them – to rebuild the relationship.
Every Wednesday I book out an hour to hold a FREE agency leaders surgery. If you have something on your mind, a challenge you’re wrestling with or just want an alternative point of view, I’d be very happy to lend an ear and maybe help you start to unpick the issues. You can help yourself to my calendar, here. Speaking to a diverse group of agency leaders helps me stay current and contextualise the issues I’m seeing with my clients. So please see this conversation as a genuine collaboration where we both hope to learn something new.