How to Help Your Green Industry Team Members Play in the Same Sandbox... Even When They Don’t Get Along

Here’s what happened recently in the office of a landscaping company. One team member had the nasty habit of making clicking noises with his mouth while performing administrative duties. This proved to be quite annoying to another member of his team, especially when she was speaking on the phone to her customers. Since their workspace was only separated by partitions, the relationship between these two individuals became quite testy and argumentative. It created a tension that was felt throughout the entire department.

Has something like this ever happened in your company? As the business owner or manager, how would you handle this type of situation?

According to humanistic thought leader Craig Nathenson, Ph.D, “Our backgrounds, which include how, where and when we were raised, all play an important part in our differences. Our experiences play a big part. Our economic backgrounds matter. Our wired personalities from birth do as well, in addition to our beliefs and values. When we come to work, we bring many desires, concerns and challenges from home with us.

As a result, the expectations we bring to work are large, and many times are not possible to be met. This can lead to conflict, and it often does.”

If your team of employees is like that of most other small businesses, you have a variety of different behavioral styles working together. That’s good, because it takes different types of people to successfully accomplish all the varying types of tasks that must be completed.

However, with different behavioral styles, there will be friction. At times, people are just not going to get along. This is normal and natural, but if not dealt with properly, can become quite annoying and a big source of inter-employee stress and psychodrama. This can lead to a less productive team, and have an extremely negative impact on the quality of the customer experience that team is trying to create and maintain. In other words, it’s not good for business.

What can you do about this particular situation? Plenty. Behavioral profiles, along with the proper debriefing by an outside facilitator, can be just what the doctor ordered. Behavioral profiling is a tool I use with my clients to help assess the working styles of their employees. It is extremely accurate, and does wonders in building communication, trust and understanding between individuals within an organization.

The best way to use a behavioral profile is with a four-step debriefing strategy and an outside facilitator. Here’s how it works: After having the employee answer the assessment questions that generate the profile report, the assessment facilitator reviews the report with the owner or manager. The second step is to separately debrief the employee; in the third step, the facilitator conducts a debriefing session with the owner or manager and the employee. The fourth and final step is to do a group debriefing with all the members of your team who’ve completed the profile.

This approach goes a long way in helping your team members understand themselves. It can help to prevent and resolve the behavioral misunderstandings that inevitably take place between employees in your company.

Dr. Nathenson adds, “With greater self-awareness, we will accept who we are, work on those elements which need to be developed, and accept that others are in different phases of their own self-development.”

This four-step debriefing strategy, used with behavioral profiling, is one of the best ways to help your team focus on resolving differences and building understanding, trust and rapport.

In my onsite consulting and training, another exercise I use to build trust and rapport is to split the employees into pairs, and have them role-play and practice using the wrong way/right way formula for resolving misunderstandings.

I ask the participants to do it the wrong way first. An example would sound something like this: “You never get your paperwork processed in a timely manner. What’s wrong with you? Don’t you see how you are creating all kinds of problems for my department?” Note how the participant made his partner ‘wrong’. He blamed her personally for failing to provide a notification that he needed in a timely manner. In the real world, this approach usually will make the partner defensive and cause even greater repercussions.

Next, I have co-workers practice the ‘right’ way, sounding something like this: “When I don’t promptly receive a notification to approve a customer’s credit from you, I can’t process an order in a timely manner. How can we do this differently, in order to speed up the process?”

In this approach, the focus is on the action, not on the person. It opens the door for two-way communication to resolve the conundrum in a constructive manner.

The purpose of this exercise is to give the participants a tool to resolve their work relations issues in a productive and non-threatening manner.

Use this exercise in your next team meeting. Have the members practice it a few times, and then be on the lookout for opportunities to praise them when you see them using the right approach in the workplace. This will go a long way towards helping them play in the same sandbox, and creates a more harmonious and less stressful workplace.

Another approach which can help to minimize workplace dysfunction you might be experiencing in your small business is job shadowing. Here is one way to use this strategy.

Pair up two people from different departments. For half a day, have team member A observe team member B. Encourage team member A to ask his partner as many questions as necessary to clarify what it is team member B is doing, and why he is doing it the way he is. At the end of that observation period, team member A should have some suggestions about how team member B can improve his performance.

After that activity is completed, they should switch roles and have team member B shadow team member A.

Over the course of a year, make it a point to require and schedule every team member to job shadow everyone else in the company—you included. The results can be amazing.

So there you have it; three strategies to help your team play in the same sandbox, even if they don’t always get along.

Which ones will you try with your employees? Let me know how it goes.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Tom Borg is an employee performance and customer-experience expert who works with small businesses and organizations in the green industry to improve customer acquisition and retention. To ask him a question or to hire Tom, contact him at: 734- 404-5909 or or