How to Deal with Division on a Team

By Published On: April 5, 2022Categories: Blog0 Comments
A Team in Conflict with Exhausted and Angry Facial Expressions

Hi, I’m Michelle, and I lead the team of 10 at Gladieux Consulting. We offer executive coaching, team training and strategic planning around the U.S. for over 20 years. One of the toughest situations we find ourselves designing interventions for happens when there is division on a team. When there’s palpable tension, or some employees avoid others, it puts stress on the entire operation.

If you’re dealing with dysfunction or trying to help others overcome it, you’re not alone. It’s wishful thinking to believe we can completely avoid workplace cliques, because humans are social, political, emotional creatures. Most of us wish for a harmony. Others enjoy drama and intentionally create it – a frequent and unpleasant challenge to face. The good news is that you have power to improve your environment when it happens to you. Team dynamic is a vital part of your organization. It’s just a matter of time until we all must address personality differences or disagreements. Failing to deal with those situations can hinder progress, yet many choose to avoid when they ought to be scheduling time for candid conversation. Knowing how to navigate discord fosters growth for years to come if trust can be built.

Start by courageously examining your own behavior. There will always be folks who like us and others who don’t. Each of us has most and least-preferred co-workers. Communicating with colleagues we don’t personally enjoy is important. The more skilled you become at this, the more successful you are and the lower your stress level.

Four types of power are worth your time to understand and expand. Personal power (how interested in others are you?), referent power (how deep and wide is your network?), knowledge power (subject matter expertise) and legitimate power (how much decision-making authority do you possess?)

There’s a key concept of power: in and out groups. I suggest you take a few minutes today to make a list of people in your professional life for your eyes only. These individuals fall into one of two groups. Out group gets less attention, less eye contact, less time, less genuine praise, less open-ended questions (“What do you think about this idea?”) and less conversation from you. Don’t worry about how this came to be, just become aware. Choose a few out group colleagues and take steps to improve your relationship with them, using the definition above. For example one of our coaching clients in higher education is expanding his circle of praise. Another, from the medical field, sets aside 10 minutes a day to inquire if others need anything or share updates. In the manufacturing sector, a client is inviting quieter employees to offer opinions in meetings. Begin. You risk rejection, and that’s OK.

Ask yourself: What am I currently known for as a co-worker, both positive and negative? How do you want to be known? If you could redesign your reputation, which elements would you keep and which would you discard? In a training event recently, top leaders from one of our client organizations shared aloud what they believe to be the highlights and lowlights of their teams’ reputations. They gave brave feedback to one another about how each team was viewed within the organization. Nobody expected their team to have a perfect reputation. Every leader knew that their team sometimes shines but that they still had work to do. If everyone cared as much about their impact on others, this would be a better world. Don’t give up just because working with humans is tricky. Strive to make a difference in every way you can, and start by looking at yourself.


Michelle Gladieux is an executive coach, instructional designer, trainer, and speaker deeply committed to sparking professional and personal growth in others. She earned her M.S. at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana and has presented over one thousand original seminars. She and her team coach in non-profit, academic, military, and corporate settings. She’s served on adjunct faculty for 18 years at three universities, teaching undergraduate and graduate organizational behavior courses. Sign up for free development resources and inspiration from the quarterly BREAKDOWN e-newsletter at www.GladieuxConsulting.com.

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