Frequently Asked Questions
Supervisors in production facilities often ask these questions.
I invite you to email me email@example.com if you have a question or would like to discuss a problem. I will try to respond within a day. I look forward to hearing from you.
Barry Phegan, Ph.D.
- Why Don’t People Get Along?
- My people don't seem to have much enthusiasm for what they do. Do you have any ideas for how to improve that?
- We have more rumors than ever. Most are not true, but they disrupt the operation. How do I get the workforce to understand the truth?
- Folks on the floor say that the company does not care about them and only cares about profit. Do you have any suggestions on how we might change their attitudes?
- A lot of my crew is resisting the changes that were recently implemented. Many have gone back to doing it the old way and it is disrupting production. How can I get everyone to connect to the new method without my giving them a direct order?
1. Why Don’t People Get Along?
a. They don't know each other.
In any environment a number of people will look for reasons to not like someone. They may base that on no more than physical features, something they may have heard about the other person, jealousy, or some other reason. The chances are that if they got to know someone better, about whom they have formed a negative opinion, they would probably turn out to like them or maybe even be friends.
My advice is to encourage your people to get to know each other a little better. I said the following many times when conducting meetings.
"When we walk in here each day all we have is each other. The outside world doesn't have much of an idea of what we do in here and our families are at home or somewhere else. So each day when we come to work, all we have is us and we all need to work together to get along."
by Greg Tippings—former General Manager, major grocery chain.
b. It might be a culture based problem.
If people don't get along it's partly because something in the company culture tells them that it's OK not to get along. You can tell people they should get along, but it probably won't make a difference. If you want people to cooperate and work well together, here are some suggestions.
Work together solving a problem.
Think of a problem or issue that the people who are not cooperating have in common, or have with themselves and others. Bring them all together and lead them through a discussion of the subject. You might use the four-step problem solving process, or you might simply ask questions (see Delegation) that help group members understand each other.
Your job in these discussions is to show them that you can all work well together, that getting along is the way we're going to do things around here. It's not your job to tell them to cooperate, or say what the right answer is. Your job is to show them, by your behavior, that everyone can work together in a friendly way.
Use the Plus-Delta at the end of the first discussion. It helps open up discussions. If there is some task for them to work on together, encourage that. At the start of the next meeting, have each of them describe what they did and what it was like working together.
Avoid one-on-one decisions.
The more decisions you can put into a group, the more cooperation you will have and the more people will get along. When leaders make one-on-one decisions, some see it as favoritism and become resentful. Almost every decision you make will affect more than one person, so try and get all affected people together, discuss the issue with them, and have them agree on how they want it handled. This way you show cooperation.
Understand what's causing the problem.
Think about what goes on in your department, or in another departments, that might cause people not to get along. Talk with other supervisors or managers. Hear their ideas on what is behind people not getting along. Ask for their suggestions on actions you can take by yourself, or in concert with the other supervisors or manages. If people see you cooperating, they will be encouraged to cooperate.
2. My people don't seem to have much enthusiasm for what they do. Do you have any ideas for how to improve that?
There are several ways to approach this problem, depending on the situation. Maybe the people don't understand how their job fits into the entire process. If not, take the time to educate them, not by standing there and telling them, but by taking the time to walk them through the entire process, including introductions, time in other departments, attending a key meeting or presentation, or whatever else you feel might benefit them. Generally, the more an employee knows about how their job fits into the other functions, the more interest they will have. It shows that you care enough about them to take time to do this.
3. We have more rumors than ever. Most are not true, but they disrupt the operation. How do I get the workforce to understand the truth?
Be directMeet this problem head-on. Start communicating to your employees. If something is true, then it is usually best to say it's true, and if it's false, then it's best to say so. Credibility as a hard thing to earn, but is easily lost. Once your credibility is lost, some people will never trust you again. Then future rumors will be more difficult to control.
When involvement wasn't quite enough
We had no appointment scheduled for incoming trucks. This was a Produce receiving warehouse so many of the trucks came directly from the field and could not follow a tight schedule. We sometimes had 60 trucks lined up waiting to come in. People were often yelling at each other about who should be unloaded next.
I spent five months talking with everybody involved: the warehouse people, purchasing, quality control, management, employees in all areas, the truck drivers and the managers in the companies they worked for. We eventually came up with a loose knit appointment scheduled that gave windows for the delivery trucks. I thought I had everybody finally on board when people ceased bringing new obstacles.
As the day approached to implement the schedule, a supervisor came into my office and said, “The guys on the floor say that the schedule won't work!” I said, “Stop everything, let's have a meeting in the lunchroom right now.”
There were 20 or 30 guys there. I said, “I heard you don't believe that the new schedule will work. Can you tell me why?” There was just silence. I said, “I can't hear anything. Please tell me what you are thinking.” Some people made comments such as, it was a new system, that they didn't know whether it would work or not. Nothing specific.
I said, “I know it's new but we've talked with everybody and this is the best we can come up with. If you have any suggestions to make it better I like to hear them. Otherwise, let's make it work. If you don't think it will work, it won't. It will only work if we all get behind it.”
The next week we implemented the new schedule and it worked smoothly. I guess the guys just needed one more reassurance from me that I cared about them.
It's never too late for answers or involvement
Another example might be one where the company is considering a major change, one that will affect many employees. If this is the rumor you are faced with, in most situations it's a good idea to let your associates know as much as you can. If there are certain details that you are not at liberty to discuss, most reasonable people will respect the fact that you shared as much as you can, followed by a statement such as, "At this point I'm not at liberty to discuss certain issues".
4. Folks on the floor say that the company does not care about them and only
cares about profit. Do you have any suggestions on how we might change their
Appreciation and Involvement
Sometimes we overlook the simplest ways to show employees you care. A pleasant greeting each day, a thank you for something done above expectations, or for long-term performance.
- I once stopped a forklift operator as he was driving along and just said, "Thank you." With a bewildered look on his face he said, "For what?" I said, "You come to work every day, you do a great job, you get along with everyone, you've never been issued any discipline that I'm aware of, and you always smile and say, ‘Hello’ when I walk by. I wish I had 300 employees like you. So I think that deserves a ‘Thank you.’"
- We bought some new equipment but it was inferior to the old worn equipment. The manufacturer tried to blame our work environment. They visited us several times. I got the employees involved with the manufacturer’s representatives. The representatives didn't like working with the employees face-to-face. Over several meetings we finally got the problems resolved.
- One morning, several weeks later, one all the employees who had participated in the meetings, and who was somewhat anti-management, said to me, "You really do care about us, don't you!" I replied, "Yes I do. When I come in here I like things to work right. I like everybody to get along together and feel good about each other and what we do. Yes I do care about you."
He realized that I cared because he was involved in those meetings with the equipment representatives.
5. A lot of my crew is resisting the changes that were recently implemented. Many have gone back to doing it the old way and it is disrupting production. How can I get everyone to connect to the new method without my giving them a direct order?
Show the benefits. Get them involved.
Everyone has a tendency to resist change, especially if they do not see the benefit, or do not understand why the change was necessary to begin with. It is always best to involve anyone who might be affected by a change, long before the change is made. It's no different than designing and building a custom home. Those who will be living in it should certainly have some influence on the design. So too should employees who are about to face change. Allow them to take part from the very big beginning, and they will be much more likely to make a project run smoothly.
- If you've started a project, or recently implemented a change, and haven't involved the people affected—stop. Acknowledge to them that it would have been a good idea to involve them more from the start, and that you really do need their help to make a smooth conversion.
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