How to build healthy relationships among co-workers
Professional development is your competitive advantage
When in growth mode, companies often focus on hiring for functional talent. Recruiters typically probe candidates for hard skills — years of experience and a pedigree education. On paper we think we are assembling a dream team of complementary talent. Just mix in a savvy business person, a sharp technical person, a creative designer and BOOM, we’re all set. The dream team!
But research has shown that when teams hit a rough patch, it’s not due to lack of talent. The number one cause of startup failure is co-founder conflict. According to an HBR study, 75% of cross-functional teams are dysfunctional. Most teams struggle with conflict; clashing egos, feelings getting hurt, people being rude, passive aggressive behavior, and poor communication skills.
And sadly, most startups don’t weather the conflict storm, they shut down as a result of it.
“In fact, 65% of high-potential startups fail as a result of conflict among co-founders, according to Noam Wasserman, a professor at Harvard Business School who studied 10,000 founders for his book “The Founder’s Dilemma.” Pairs and groups bring a variety of skills, but there is also more potential for conflict — over leadership, money, strategy, credit and blame.”
The reality is that even the most mature, adult, experienced professionals struggle with these core people issues. Human issues. The hardest part of building productive teams is the people part — humans working with other humans. Our work relationships are complex and require effort. Communication and coordination can be messy.
In Garry Tan’s TechCrunch article on co-founder conflict, Garry advises co-founder teams to invest in maintaining founding relationships just like you would invest in marital relationships. Specifically, Garry argues, co-founders need to expect conflict, benefit from it, and resolve it. Starting a company, just like working closely with a team, will not be all kittens and unicorns.
“Successful co-founders actually embrace conflict, and are constantly in the process of resolving it. If you can’t argue and arrive at the best solution, you’re not doing the work to actually have a real, healthy working relationship.”
But this doesn’t mean that teammates should constantly be fighting. While disagreements will arise constantly, getting past them leads to progress. Avoid nasty fighting and aspire to engage in productive conflict.
“Fighting fair is collaborative and data-based. One concrete thing before you start to work through conflict is to always remind yourselves: You’re on the same team.”
Garry advises co-founders to take on an executive coach. Early.
“Don’t be afraid to bring in the pros. Be open to getting professional help, either individually (to help you respond to the ongoing conflict) or as a group (similar to how a marriage counselor can save a marriage). I can’t recommend executive coaching enough for founders, especially when a company-killing conflict is on the line. You have employees and customers who depend on you to make the right call, and you owe it to them to make sure you do. Athletes have coaches and trainers who help them get to peak performance. Knowledge work can be just as demanding, and I’ve seen many founders find their partnerships saved this way.”
Here at BigTalker, we couldn’t agree more. Adding coaches, advisors, and professional development programs to your leadership mix is the smartest way to invest in your company’s future. And, coaching doesn’t have to be just for founders and executives, coaching can be scaled to improve team dynamics, as per executive coach Alicia Jabbar.
The key to managing your work relationships is to start with self-awareness and curiosity: be willing to learn and improve. Booking a communication workshop for your team is not a reaction to a team setback; it’s a commitment to the health and success of your team. And it’s a competitive advantage.
Thanks for the great article, Garry!