Q&A14..Feuds Between Employees

Dear Ammar,

I was away from my position as a manager for six months due to personal reasons.  I have a team of twenty people; two supervisors and eighteen staff members, with each of the supervisors responsible for half the staff.  While away, one of my previous staff was promoted to the supervisor position and is having trouble with one of the staff members.  Before being promoted, these two were peers, with similar experience and background.  I think rivalry has something to do with the problems.  While I was away, the disgruntled staff member used to go to my manager directly to complain about her supervisor and my manager worked as a judge; sometimes ruling in favor of the employee and the other for the supervisor.  With me back, I am finding myself acting as that judge, with lots of my time wasted on bickering between these two.  I am not sure what to do as I do not want to lose either one, and their fights are affecting my whole team.  Lately it seems that people are coming to work just to see what will come next of the feud, instead of minding the work at hand.  To make things worse, my manager is still being brought into the picture because she has the background on it more than I do, according to her.  I am so disappointed and sad to see this department, which is like my own baby to me, being torn apart like this because of sidetrack issues.  Any advice?    


Fatimah T

Dear Fatimah,

First things first: You need to start with your manager and work your way down in solving this problem.  Since this is your staff and your responsibility, your manager should not intervene in solving these problems unless you are unable to solve them yourself, which is not the case. 

Agree with your manager that once one of your staff members brings up a problem, she refers them back to their supervisor.  It is OK for her to listen to what people have to say.  But she must ask them to start by discussing the issue with the supervisor, and if the problem is still not solved to go to you as the supervisor’s manager.  only if you were not able to resolve the problem that they go to your manager.  it is unfair of staff to escalate without giving their immediate supervisor a chance to resolve the issue.  

If the person did actually talk to the supervisor and up the chain of command properly without resolution, then as long as the supervisor and you went by best practices and were not in violation of professional conduct or company policies then your boss should support your decision.  She does not have to say: “ You are wrong and Fatima is right.”  She can say something like: “ I see where Fatima is coming from and I do support her in how she handled the situation.. if you have a different opinion, I urge you to talk to Fatima directly.” 

If you actually did something wrong, then your manager should postpone any further discussion with the employee and talk to you first.  It is then between you and your manager to ensure that the right thing is done.  Your manager should not get involved in micro management; the details of how you run your department are yours not hers and she should not force you to mimic her style. 

Once you and your manager agree on the above escalation rules, you are in control again and ready to work with your team. 

Tell team members that you demand complete focus on the work at hand and remind them of the desired outcomes that you are expecting from them and the outcomes you are responsible for as a team.

Set clearly the communication channels at your department. People need to know how to deal with issues and how to escalate them.  Remember when setting the rules to treat your supervisors the way you want your manager to treat you.  So, when you get complaints from staff, deal with them as described above. 

Long term, you have a responsibility to empower your supervisors.  Empowerment starts with trust and understanding.  Are your supervisors capable? What are their strengths and weaknesses? What can you do to help them improve? Work with them to find answers to these questions.  If they are not fit for their position, then remove them. 

Sometimes, supervisors are promoted based on their technical skills.  In today’s dynamic and people-centric work environment, technical skills are not enough; the ability to handle people or what is called soft skills are also essential.  These include conflict resolution, negotiation, motivation, and leadership skills.  If your supervisors need extra training in these aspects then get them trained.  Until then, act as their coach and mentor, giving them on the job and hands-on training. 

Watch the situation carefully; if things keep getting worse with a specific staff member, then maybe that staff member cannot coexist with the supervisor, and maybe she can be swapped with a member from the other group.  If the problem continues, then maybe the person needs to be removed.  At the end, work requires complete focus and attention away from irrelevant tangents or personal feuds. 

Good luck


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