How to change the culture of a combative team.

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Q: I recently began supervising a group of five women who all seem to hate each other. Although I have heard other managers complain about the phenomenon of overseeing such a group, I have never encountered it before. I had a discussion with the group’s primary troublemakers, but so far there has been no improvement. How am I supposed to handle all this drama?

A: If the juvenile bickering stems from job-related issues, then you must help your group resolve them. But if this hostility seems personal, then it’s time to establish some non-negotiable expectations. Here’s one way to kick off that discussion:

“Unfortunately, I have some serious concerns about the future of this group. Although you have the potential to be a successful team, right now there is a lot of childish squabbling. So I’m going to explain what needs to change, then you must each decide whether you can meet those expectations.

“First, let me emphasize that co-workers don’t have to like each other. Since you don’t get to choose your co-workers, you probably won’t like all of them. But you still must be able to work with everyone, regardless of how you feel about them.

“Specifically, you are expected to be consistently pleasant, helpful and cooperative with one another. Those are the three words to remember: pleasant, helpful and cooperative. I will be glad to help you solve any work-related problems, but the personal quarrels must stop now.

“As a group, we need to create a more mature, professional office environment. I will be talking with each of you privately about your plan for making this happen because that will be a requirement for continuing to work here.”

Changing the culture of your combative team will require follow-through and persistence. But if you recognize those who comply, correct those who resist and get rid of anyone who refuses to change, the drama will eventually disappear.

Q: The owner of our small business is extremely rude. “Mike” is highly judgmental and often makes negative comments to the staff. He is also extremely moody and frequently changes his mind, so you never know how he’s going to react.
To be fair, I feel blessed to have this job because Mike is very understanding about my family needs. He lets me leave early for appointments and I can work from home when my child is sick. However, I’m beginning to resent his rudeness, so I would like to clear the air. How can I share my feelings without risking my job security?

A: “Clearing the air” might be helpful with a friend or colleague but it is seldom advisable with a boss. Criticizing an erratic business owner could easily jeopardize your job. So, while expressing these emotions might make you feel better, losing your schedule flexibility could be a high price to pay.

If Mike’s cranky personality becomes unbearable, it may be time to look elsewhere. But if child-friendly jobs are few and far between in your area, perhaps you should simply try to shift your focus. If you make a conscious effort to look past Mike’s annoying flaws and see his positive traits, your resentment may gradually decrease.

Submit questions to Marie G. McIntyre at