Conflict between founders and team members is among the most insidious problems that can cripple a startup company. Problems can arise on teams of just two or three people, and even in startups that work with regular freelancers or independent contractors. Often, conflict starts so subtly you hardly notice it. But if you don’t take steps to stop the problems, these clashes can hurt your authority, your team’s morale and ultimately your business.
There are several everyday conflicts many startups face. Here are three of the most common types of employee problems you’re likely to encounter - and some suggestions for dealing with the difficulties.
Problem 1: Generation Gaps
This problem cuts both ways. As a young founder, have you surrounded yourself with employees who are your peers, and who treat you more like a friend than a boss? (Maybe some actually are your friends.) Or did you decide you needed some “grownups” on your staff, and you’ve hired a few workers who are not only older than you, but condescending as well?
Solution: Set boundaries from the beginning for how you want to be treated by your staff. As a founder, you’re the one who has to set the tone. Be polite and friendly, but not too friendly. It’s OK to be friends with your business partners, but when there’s a boss-subordinate relationship, it’s usually best to keep it professional. If you think you are facing this problem, take the employees in question aside and discuss the situation calmly. More often than you’d think, team members don’t realize they’re reacting inappropriately until it’s pointed out.
Problem 2: Employees Gone AWOL
It’s not that employees are literally absent without leave, taking time off without permission. But in today’s business culture, it’s widely accepted that everyone works from home, at least some of the time. In your office, virtual teams might be par for the course, and while this is a smart way to work, it can cause problems if some of those “virtual” employees aren’t pulling their weight.
Solution: Don’t wing it when it comes to working remotely. Spell out your expectations. Set up systems and standards for how often employees should check in. Do you care if people work regular 9-5 hours, or are you fine as long as the work gets done? Hold regular meetings via Skype or other conferencing tools to keep everyone in the loop. Have in-person, all-hands-on-deck staff meetings at least monthly so people don’t feel isolated. Employee camaraderie is an important component of getting stuff done. Make sure being virtual doesn’t destroy that spirit.
Problem 3: Debbie Downers
We all have bad days, but employees who constantly dwell on the dark side can cause problems — especially if their target is you, your ideas or their fellow workers.
Solution: This may sound like a trivial issue, but it’s not. And the longer you let it fester, the deeper the negative pall that could engulf your company. If the 'tude emerges in a meeting, acknowledge the person’s concerns and put it to the team. You could say something like “Steve has a point - are there any solutions we can think of to prevent this from happening?” Reward those who come up with positive approaches. If the negativity continues, put the offender on notice that attitude counts, and they need to temper their negativity.
Whatever the issue, the key to managing conflict with team members is not to hide your head in the sand. Remember that they are your employees, and you have an obligation to manage them properly. Handling the situation immediately and positively is not only the mature way to resolve existing conflict, but also the best way to reduce future disagreements.