The 2013 4-12 Philadelphia Eagles were a football team in turmoil, and that’s putting it lightly. After their dismal season they changed the guard and hired college football offense virtuoso Chip Kelly from Oregon. Like all new hires he inherited a team he neither recruited, nor built.
But he worked with the assets before him. Coach Kelly utilized players by creatively integrating a system catering toward his players’ skills and once he had his team buy into his high octane and complicated playbook, the Eagles started winning.
The next year, the Eagles were 10-6, went to the playoffs, and showcased one of the most exciting offenses in football.
Sometimes you can’t choose your supporting cast. You have to manage what you have and make the best of it. Managers sometimes inherit employees they don’t know how to develop and they must work directly with peers they don’t mesh with. But the best leaders will always find a way to compromise and push forward.
The Harvard Business Review has looked at these issues closely.
Ron Ashkenas, Senior Partner at Schaefer Consulting and a HBR contributor, told Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER program that it is virtually impossible to like everyone you meet, but you have to get along. There is no other option.
One of Ashkenas’s first points is that you don’t always need everyone in the room to agree. “Senior managers and members of the team absolutely do not have to all agree on things. I mean in fact, it’s good if they don’t. They should come with different perspectives and good opportunities to share those perspectives and look at things through different lenses and come up with more robust and better solutions.”
However, the issue is how the team can manage that kind of conflict.
“We don’t like everybody we meet, we don’t like everybody we work with, and, it’s the reality,” said Ashkenas, before referencing The Godfather proverb of “it’s business, it’s not personal.” Sometimes you have to learn how to be personable in order to do business.
The senior partner speaks of how frequently managers come into a role with a previous team assembled. Although their predecessor picked the surrounding team, they must learn to work together in order to be successful.
Everyone agrees that picking your own team is the best possible option, but Ashkenas said of dealing with a peer or employee that wasn’t handpicked, “We don’t have to like each other, but let’s do what’s in the best interest of our citizens, the best interest of our constituents.”
He describes the worst kind of conflict as a passive-aggressive one.
“When people sort of smile and nod in person, but in reality they can’t stand each other, they don’t agree with each other, and then they go out of the room and they badmouth each other, or they tell their teams to ignore anything that happened there,” said Ashkenas.
Some superiors like to air out laundry in front of everyone. Occasionally, making an example out of an employee or facilitating a group based intellectual discussion can be helpful. But Ashkenas is wary of embarrassing employees and that’s never effective.
“Well if it’s really personal and emotional, it’s probably better to do it in private. I mean, that should not be done in a public setting. That is embarrassing and it does reverberate in a very negative way. It means everybody loses credibility there; there’s no winners in a situation like that.”
Ashkenas emphasized the importance of emotional intelligence and empathy.
“You have to have a certain amount of empathy to realize that people have different styles. They may have good intentions, but they work it in a different way. And we have to appreciate and honor that. I think a lot of the conflict comes from not disagreements intellectually, but from style disagreements, said Ashkenas.
Many of these skills require development over time. Empathy is sometimes thought to be innate, but the best leaders spend their entire career sharpening their interpersonal skills so they can improve their work environment.
Ashkenas added, “Part of the maturity of senior leaders is to learn how to appreciate and say yes, people do things in different ways, but, you know, they all have things to contribute, let’s figure out a way to make it work.”