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How do you create a workplace where people don’t get under your skin?

It’s really interesting to research the reasons people creep each other out at work.  Complaints generally range from messy desks, condescending manners, goody two shoes suck ups, employees who don’t care, and many more.  The ways we get under each others’ skins are endless.

Sometimes we just can’t deal with a person we work with because they’re untruthful, deceptive, and conniving to their very cores.  I have only dealt with a handful of these people in a long career, but when you do, there is no value in thinking this person will change.  Heart-to-heart talks or negotiations won’t work.  You have to get out (or get that person out) the fastest and safest way possible, and don’t look back.

But most of us who really irritate people like you are really mixed bags.  What we do that irritates you really isn’t directed at you, but it’s more often my ignorance and ineptness.

I just think that . . .

  • I’m too busy to clean my desk, and if you were doing something productive your desk would be worse than mine.
  • Sure I got your email telling me the project is going down because I haven’t sent you my information, but if you just realized how important I am and how many emails I get, you’d thank me for what I do, and admire me.
  • Besides you’re simply not on my A list of people whose emails I answer.

This thinking may seem twisted and infuriating, but it’s just another day of living in the human race.

True business teams are often the real answer to lessening workplace tensions. 

When everyone has skin in the game, people tend to focus on the goal.  In a goal-driven environment, people’s quirks matter much less as long as they’re moving you forward and have your back.  The best way for people to not get under each others’ skins is to put them on a real team where they are interdependent with each other, working on a project with specific goals that have significance to the organization’s success and to their own lives and futures.  In fact, in a goal-focused organization, those quirks of a highly effective team member often even become endearing.

So often when we’re put on a team at work, it really isn’t a team at all.  

Since the early 90s we’ve been calling groups of people roughly aligned in the workplace a “team.”  But all too often they’re more like a crowd of individuals at a subway station, trying to find their gate and get on a separate train, some to sales, others to IT, accounting, administration, etc.

When you run into someone from another “subway gate,” it’s usually when your computer doesn’t work and the person from IT comes down, or you get an email from accounting that your numbers are wrong.  These encounters are usually not team encounters, they’re individuals who intersect with you from time to time.

The concept of teams has been very slow to become a reality in business.  After two decades, most organizations really don’t know how to create teams or run them.  In the old days when we had traditional hierarchies you interviewed for a departmental position.  If you got the job you might not meet your other colleagues for days or weeks.  The idea of a tight-knit team that worked together seamlessly to achieve the goal was not known.

In a true team environment, we can achieve great chemistry where everyone is moving the ball down the field to score points and win the game.  Teams don’t become teams because they call themselves a team and have team meetings, but because they are formed and have clear goals.

Can you imagine if the San Francisco Giants players had their first meeting before the first game of the season, heard a great speech, suited up, and got on the field to play?  What if they met as time allowed and everyone was encouraged to “compare notes” on the best way to run a play.  Their season would obviously be disastrous.

The Team Creation Process–Building a Team that Bonds

Sports teams go through pre-season practice.  Military teams go through an elaborate training process.  Neither would field a team to see if they made it or not.   Business teams often avoid the team formation process as a waste of time and money.  I understand why that’s true.  Corporate training during the 90s was largely a huge failure because it offered subject matter courses, often badly taught, and did not have a team formation process.

Forming Teams that Bond and Succeed

A strongly functional dynamic team of people who see each other as members of a team instead of people who get under each others’ skin is a process of team formation.  The following are important components:

Seeing Each Others’ Strengths:  A beginning point in team formation are sessions where we understand how each team member’s education, experience and skills relate to team goals.

Utilizing Science-Based Assessments.  Team formation requires more than guessing and gut reaction.  Data about personality type, interpersonal approach to team work, and feedback such as 360 Degree assessments are essential to team formation.

Rules of the Road.  Creating a successful team requires transparency and communicating directly as people map out how they’ll work together.

Goal establishment.  When people understand that the success of the organization is the key to their own success, they begin to see each other as part of their own success.  Clear goals  make successful companies and teams that respect and rely on each other.

When there is toxic interpersonal conflict where people get under each other’s skins, it’s almost always because there are poorly formed teams where people fight because “the stakes are so low” and because the team is not aligned behind clear goals.  Formed teams with people who bond and have each other’s back and hold themselves and each other accountable to clear goals creates a workplace of achievement where people want to come to work.

Austin, Texas

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Carol Kallendorf, PhD. | (512) 417-9756 

Jack Speer | (512) 417-9428


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