Managing Conflict: When Turf Wars Threaten Morale and Productivity

Jaimy Ford by Jaimy Ford on August 19, 2013
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Employee “turf wars” occur in organizations of nearly every size. They can be especially prevalent in small businesses where employees play numerous roles and have overlapping job responsibilities, which makes it easy to step on one another’s toes.

Here’s how to prevent turf wars from escalating into morale-damaging and productivity-killing conflicts.

  1. Emphasize teamwork. Convey the following message to your entire staff frequently: “We are a team here, and everyone needs to pitch in to do whatever it takes to help this business succeed. That means sharing information and handling tasks as needed.” Reinforce the importance of collaboration by rewarding team players and by making teamwork a quality you evaluate during performance reviews.
  2. Write job descriptions. Yes, you need employees to be flexible and take on different duties. But you should also define each person’s core responsibilities. Grant individuals ownership of specific tasks, and hold them accountable for seeing that those tasks are completed properly and on time. Employees who are focused on their own duties will be less likely to interfere with their co-workers’ assignments.
  3. Establish a hierarchy. You will likely need a second in command to fill in for you from time to time, so assign a person that role. Be specific about who should take directions or orders from whom. If you fail to do this, an “alpha” employee may force himself into a leadership position and treat co-workers as subordinates. This creates hostility and resentment among staffers who see themselves as equals to their bossy colleague.
  4. Build employee confidence. Turf wars often result from employees’ feelings of insecurity about their skills, rank, or job. They’ll battle with co-workers who they think are trying to outshine them or take their position. Regularly meet with employees to thank them for what they are doing well and to coach them in areas where they need improvement.
  5. Take it easy on internal competition. Employee competition can be healthy. But, if taken too far, it pits peers against one another, causing them to fight over resources and to withhold information out of fear of giving someone else an edge. To prevent competition from turning toxic in your workplace, don’t encourage people to compete against one another. Instead, hold contests in which employees compete against their own individual quotas and goals.
  6. Don’t compare employees. If you ever catch yourself saying something like “You need to be more like so-and-so,” bite your tongue hard. That is the quickest way to develop a rivalry between two staff members. Everyone brings different skills, knowledge, and qualities to the table. Rather than forcing one person to be exactly like another, focus on improving each worker’s weaknesses and expanding on their strengths. That way, you get the best out of every employee.
Jaimy Ford

Jaimy Ford is a business writer and editor. She writes subscription newsletters, training tools and blogs that focus on professional development, leadership, productivity and more. Her goal in everything she writes is to provide actionable advice that you can put to use immediately.

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