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Coaching teams through turf wars

By DJ Mitsch, MCC  December 1, 2021

Turf Wars! We’ve heard that comment frequently in the past few months. The tighter the financial markets, the more uncertainty in the air, the leaner to scale, the more fear people hold onto, the more they feel a need to protect something. And, inside organizations we see that need for a sense of control play out as a ‘turf war.’

From a higher view, the very notion of that dynamic in a corporate setting is odd if not baffling. A turf battle—anything labeled a “war”—is out of place in an organization where people are committed to collective success that requires collaboration rather than lack of it. What we see as a root cause for things falling apart is simply this: people have stopped communicating. Even if they are speaking to each other, it is often insincere and full of hidden agendas. So what’s a company to do to shift the mindset and address fear in their culture? Here are four ideas:

1. Hold Listening Sessions for Teams

Before you can change anything, you need to hear people out and help them label the fear. Hold listening sessions with the specific purpose of hearing their concerns, ideas, commitments and allow a little bit of BMW (bitching, moaning and whining). Find a place where they feel comfortable to let it out. Your job is to simply ask questions. They will likely focus the attention on what isn’t working and if you listen closely, you will hear the victimization that we have labeled “awfulizing.” Keep listening, regardless of your own patience level. It is the hardest thing you will do and until people are fully heard, they cannot shift to a new mindset. Note everything they say.

2. Create a Theme Report

Capture everything you heard in a high level report without names or attribution and be careful to sanitize comments to preserve anonymity. Give this report to those above you and ask them to find at least one or two quick wins… things they can address that will give the team a sense of ownership. Feeling heard is the starting place. Seeing movement helps team members gain trust – the obvious missing ingredient around creating new levels of communication. Keep working it. And find a coach for yourself while you work through this… because engaging those who are in turf wars is a little like going into battle… you need someone to have your back.

3. Model Speaking Straight

The reason people don’t speak their hearts is that they follow the leader or the perceptions of leadership. They withhold their comments out of perceived consequence. Go first.
Tell a story about a time when you were afraid to speak up, but you did and the result of that. Tell them what you feel you need to change now in order to drive a new level of communication. Just keep talking things out. Label conflict and seek a common interest in every conversation. Don’t wait for others to come to you… reach out. Be curious about what will make it easier to work together.

4. Create a New Way of Working

Create a new code of conduct and capture everything the team needs and wants to feel safe in communicating their needs and ideas. Have them learn to challenge each other, but not take things personally by simply building enough context before they lay out their emotions. Teach them the SIR model for communicating their needs:

S – Snapshot of what is happening that isn’t working and simply say… here’s what is not working about the behaviors exhibited—(behavior is simply observable action)

I – Impact on you and others (but mostly this is about YOU)

R – Request they make a change—and allow for negotiation

These things will help you begin to change the way people communicate. We work with this model all the time and we see people shift from protection to participation.

Do you have ideas about how to move people from a turf war to collaboration? Add your comments to this blog

DJ Mitsch, MCC

Darelyn “DJ” Mitsch is the Chief Energy Officer of the Pyramid Resource Group, a Master Certified Coach, and a founding member and former president of the International Coach Federation (ICF). She is a world-class coach and creative partner for innovative leaders and teams. DJ designed this program based on her passion for bringing people fully to life as they change the game of work!

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