An important part of any leader’s job is ensuring that people work together in accord. There are times when that happens naturally, but without strong leadership it’s easy for your team’s goodwill to fall apart under serious disagreement or a time of high stress.
Here are some leadership tips for keeping a civil atmosphere among your team:
Build a foundation.
Make sure that your organization is structured to build connections between people and to give your team members the opportunity to know one another as people in an atmosphere of mutual respect. Celebrate milestones and victories together, and foster collaboration. These connections can be especially important in big organizations or those with remote workers.
Set the tone.
People literally look to their leaders as a gauge of the behavior that’s expected of them. That means you need to be sure that your own actions and words meet the highest standards every single day. Don’t react to setbacks by losing your temper, cursing at someone or slamming your fist on a desk. You can communicate in a stern but respectful way. Self-control is key. Set the example that you don’t engage in or tolerate gossip or disrespectful talk, that you genuinely listen to others and take their ideas and opinions seriously.
Educate your team about conflict resolution.
Make sure people have the tools to engage positively in conflict and disagreement. You can stage a professional development event with an outside trainer, or an informal DIY training during a staff meeting or over a brown-bag lunch. If nothing else, you can always share resources—my recent post on the subject might provide a good starting point. Educating the entire team shows that you take the issue seriously, and no one feels singled out.
Have a clear understanding about personal issues.
Depending on the size and style of your organization, you may have HR policies that govern discussion of topics and certain issues. If not, formulate a clear set of expectations that apply to everyone—ideally, with input from the entire team—and communicate them clearly. Some work groups specify that any mention of potentially controversial topics should occur only outside work hours and away from the office; others give people more leeway as long as discussion remains undistracting and civil.
Workplaces are like families: eventually, some degree of conflict is inevitable. By setting clear boundaries, teaching the principles of conflict resolution, and creating an environment of connection and respect, you can keep it from being a damaging force.