Snide remarks are like an acid that corrodes workplacesSummer Reading Series Installment 2 of 4

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Frank had a few ideas about how to strengthen his leadership and bring more spirit and meaning into the organization. But he felt that he needed the fresh and informed perspective that an outside expert could offer. So he hired Pat, a consultant, to provide an assessment.

Pat conducted confidential interviews with Frank and with each of the managers on his team. Pat sat in on a few management meetings. Pat also ran some focus groups with frontline staff groups.

During their first feedback session, Pat asked Frank if he’d noticed how much sniping there was going on between his managers. “It’s just good fun,” Frank objected. “Yeah, often it is and that’s great,” Pat replied. “But it can also be like having a snowball fight. As long as the snowballs are soft and fluffy, everything’s fine. Then someone throws a snowball with a stone inside, which hits you in the head. That person might say, ‘It was just in fun’. But that doesn’t make the buried stone hurt any less.”

Pat looked down at his notes and concluded, “There are a few stones and some rocks being thrown around your meeting rooms, offices, and halls. A number of people have told me privately how much some of these hurt. They are eroding the team’s spirit. Also, a lot of the humor around here is pretty cynical, and nothing destroys team spirit faster than cynicism. Snide remarks, barbs, and pessimism are like an acid that corrodes deeper connectedness and meaningful workplaces.”

Frank and Pat decided that the sniping problem was a good place to start reconnecting the team. In consultation with the managers, they agreed to set up a Sniping and Cynicism Rule: If any team member made a comment that sounded like a putdown, cheap shot, or cynical remark, the others would tap their glasses, cups, or table top with a pen. The offender would then be required to deposit two dollars in a “fine pot.” The money would be donated to a designated charity at the end of each quarter. (This strategy also prompted Frank to identify local charities and community projects that were of interest to people in the organization, and to provide them with support — both in allowing time off work and in donations of financial support.)

Frank’s leadership plan to reconnect people focused on communication — holding “town hall” meetings in which he shared Pat’s assessment report, discussed strengths, weaknesses, and improvement opportunities, asked for input and ideas, and got everyone involved in the improvement process. Frank also worked to develop his verbal communication skills. He became a corporate “storyteller,” sharing with others what he had learned about the company’s rich heritage and how previous leaders had dealt with many changes and crisis points.

Next: Installment Three: Growing to the Next Level
Click to download the entire 4 part series as a PDF

Adapted from The Leader’s Digest, by Jim Clemmer.