Management and employee clashes in the workplace are no laughing matter. As many individuals as there are, there are an equal number of unique working styles.
Because of this, sometimes the working styles of employees in management, and those they manage, can clash. If management and employees don’t work well together, all kinds of problems arise.
So how can you get everyone on the same page? What are the options for when management and employees have different work styles?
How can people adapt to different working styles, and are there ever differences too significant to work out?
Find Common Ground and Shared Goals
Diversity makes an organization stronger. Different perspectives spark different ideas, and different working styles mean your organization can work better with a variety of clients, depending on clients’ working styles.
So it’s not inherently a bad thing to have different working styles among management and employees. In fact, different working styles can be complementary. If Bill is a big thinker without an eye for details, while Anika needs to see detailed, step-by-step plans, Bill is the perfect person to work on strategy while Anika implements the plan to realize the strategy. Bill and Anika can work together to do their best work.
However, problems will arise if Anika doesn’t understand how Bill’s latest big idea fits into the company’s five-year strategic plan, or if Bill gets frustrated that Anika is missing the forest for the trees. In each of these cases, an absence of a shared goal leads to friction.
While it’s not necessary for colleagues to have the same working styles, they do have to be working together towards the same goals. If there is no common ground and no shared understanding of an end goal, there will be a clash.
If different working styles are leading to resistance from either employees or management, consider whether there is confusion about the end goal. Management needs to clearly articulate the end goal and ensure employees understand the common ground that unites all members of the team.
Do management and employees like each other? Do they trust each other? Many misunderstandings and challenges can be worked through when a team likes each other and believes their colleagues have good intentions. Most people will naturally adapt their working styles slightly to better suit their colleagues’ styles when they like those colleagues.
But where there isn’t trust or goodwill, there will be clashes.
You can build trust in your workplace by:
- Making a personal connection. Brown-bag lunches, drinks after work, an office softball team, and other social events are good ways to encourage employees to connect on a personal level.
- Ensuring management takes blame, but gives employees credit. Trust will be eroded if employees believe management is going to throw them under the bus for poor profits or an initiative’s failure. Conversely, trust will be built if employees know management recognizes their efforts, no matter the outcome.
- Cultivating a culture of openness. . Information like financial results and minutes from board meetings should be shared with employees whenever possible.
Discuss Work Styles
Sometimes clashes occur just because work styles are different and team members don’t know how to accommodate other styles. Openly discussing work styles and what team members need to do their work well can ensure everyone understands how best to work with everyone else. This is why behavior assessments are such popular tools. They identify individuals’ motivations and styles.
You don’t have to encourage employees to undertake formal behavior tests to see the benefits; just asking employees what they need to be successful will yield important insights into their work styles.
Management should lead this process in two ways:
- By communicating their work style. Whatever managers’ preferences, they should state them to their employees, rather than hoping their employees will figure them out.
- By encouraging their employees to communicate their work style. Do they prefer their boss assume they will bring up any issues or do they want their boss to check in regularly? How often do they want feedback on their work? Do they prefer to work on a team or alone?
Honest conversations about work style can elicit important insights. Perhaps one employee favors phone over email; another may be a visual learner who finds it harder to focus on people talking in meetings if he’s not given a meeting agenda to follow point by point.
Employees may not always volunteer this type of information, but by communicating their own needs clearly and honestly, managers can encourage employees to do the same.
When It Just Won’t Work
Letting an employee or employees go should be a last resort, only when all other options have proven fruitless. But if you’ve tried all of the above, and HR has been involved to help with conflict resolution, and there’s still a management-employee clash, it may be time to let someone go.
If you see any of the following, it could be a sign that the conflict can’t be resolved:
- Disagreement on goals or purpose. If management and employees can’t agree on goals, it will be hard to agree on much else.
- It’s one thing to disagree with a colleague. It’s another thing to disrespect them. Disrespect has a toxic effect that is difficult to counter, and it can’t be allowed a toehold in your company.
Keep an eye out for a manager who too often clashes with employees; a manager’s job is to bring out the best in employees regardless of their work style and personality. If a manager consistently has difficulty bridging work styles to make their team work well together, it may be a sign they’re not cut out for management.
In most cases, a clash between management and employees doesn’t mean someone needs to leave — it generally reflects a lack of understanding for those who approach work differently. If members of your management team are struggling to work smoothly with their employees, help the two parties find common ground by identifying shared goals, building trust, and having open and honest conversations about work styles. This will get most teams working together like a well-oiled machine, no matter how different their approaches.
Chris is an active participant in the talent management community bringing over 18 years of experience to BirdDogHR. He has presented at numerous industry events and has been quoted as an industry expert in leading publications like Talent Management magazine, CLO magazine, CEOWOLRD magazine, New Talent Times, TLNT, and HR Bartender.