I had been working with a group of managers and their director on preparing for some major restructuring within their large school district. A lot was going to be happening very soon and we wanted to be prepared. We all knew too well, that once it all started, any problems would be costly and would be played out in the local newspapers. As we approached this challenge, I noticed some uneasiness and quiet maneuvering surrounding two managers. I knew we couldn’t go on unless we addressed this covert problem.
It turned out that a couple of years earlier, these two managers had had a significant disagreement and, since then, they had stayed away from each other whenever possible. But, even with their attempts at careful avoidance, their once covert friction had grown loud and developed some teeth. We didn’t need internal sabotage in our mix. There were enough issues to deal with without adding this subterfuge. And, too many other employees sincerely cared about these two managers. Loyalties would be strained if these two formidable players squared off. We had to resolve this quickly so that we could go into our restructuring free of clutter, and with a crystal clear and mutually accepted vision.
I talked privately with these two managers and encouraged them to take the lead to resolve this matter. I suggested they use a structured, problem-solving approach to discuss this topic in front of their departments and the whole group, so that neither gossip nor misunderstandings would follow. They agreed. A whole group meeting was set up with my facilitation. Then, each taking turns, they each told their side of the story. As usual, they each harbored many misperceptions that needed to be cleared up. Clarifying what had happened, what had been said, and what had been meant was essential. Many misunderstandings were cleared up once and for all for all present. Some issues needed additional time and resources, so they were tabled to be addressed at a later time. When appropriate, the group joined in to lend support and clarify their own misperceptions and to squelch rumors and gossip, as well. This meeting didn’t take more than forty-five minutes, but it was invaluable for bringing this team together and helping them learn how to REALLY communicate. Loud and clear this session modeled two values they later chose to guide their group as a whole:
We agree to face challenges sooner rather than later.
We will always work as a team toward our agreed upon objectives.
Clarifying these values was especially important given the gravity of the challenges that lay ahead. We were embarking on one of the biggest restructurings this district had faced in many years. As a result of the problem solving meeting with all members together, the whole team became closer and learned to communicate much more effectively. From then on, as we all began to prepare our plans and contingency plans for the restructure, we had the strength of “all hands on deck,” which was good, because we needed each and every one of them.
When the final decision to begin the restructuring process was made by the school board, this department had their plans and contingency plans firmly in place. Each person knew his or her role and was ready, willing and able to get the job done. There was no lost or wasted time on unfortunate communications problems or cumbersome baggage to impede their work. As a result, their role in the restructure went very smoothly.