They hate each other! Can't I just bang their heads together?

Two people in my team clearly don't get on. It's starting to affect the wider team and I think it's time for me to address it head on. What can I do?

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Oct 12, 2017
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There are two people in my team that clearly don’t get on.  They are both as bad as each other and find opportunities to tell tales, criticise and ‘point score’ against the other.  It’s starting to affect the wider team and I think it’s time for me to address it head on.  What would you recommend I do?

Diversity of opinions, attitudes and approaches can be healthy in a team environment but not when it becomes toxic. You can’t make them become best friends overnight but you can reasonably expect them to behave appropriately in the workplace.

Should I speak to them alone or together?

I recommend speaking to them individually in the first instance in order to give each of them an opportunity to get things off their chest if they need it.  You can use these one on one discussions to give you some content to use when facilitating a later discussion with them both together.

What should I say in the one to ones?

You can highlight that you have identified that there is an issue between them and X and, as their line manager, you are obligated to raise it with each of them to identify if there is an underlying cause and put a plan of action in place to improve the working relationship between them for their sakes and the sake of the team.

Ask open questions with regard to their thoughts and feelings on the relationship.  If they confirm that the relationship is not good, ask them for examples of where they believe they have experienced difficulties with the other person and how they handled that.

Share your observations on the dynamic between them but without judgement about who is in the right and who is in the wrong.  Explain the impact that this is having on the team.

Ask them if they would like the relationship to improve and how they think that could be achieved.

How soon after the one to ones should I see them both together?

You will have to gauge this on the circumstances.  One or both of them may need some time to calm down from any high emotions caused by your one to ones.  Alternatively, they may both want to have a follow on conversation straight away.

What shall I say in the group conversation?

Tell them that the purpose of the meeting is to air the matters that have been discussed in the one to ones and work towards a more positive working relationship.  Ask them to assume positive intent from the other.

Summarise the issues that came out in the one to ones in a tactful way and give them an opportunity to respond to each point.  This is very much a discussion that you will need to facilitate.

For example: 

“X, Y said that she felt betrayed when you highlight her shortcomings in the team meeting without raising them with her first.” 

“Is that a fair statement Y?” 

“OK, X, would you like to respond to that?”   

Once the grievances against each other have been aired, move the conversation to finding a solution that they can both agree on.  Set the standards that you expect in their dealings with each other and try to secure their commitment to meet those standards.  

Think about your role as their manager and whether there is anything that you can do to improve their relationship.  Have you been giving one favourable treatment over the other?  Do you need to be more balanced towards them?

Do I need to follow up the meetings?

Yes, you could email them both afterwards to confirm the discussion and the agreed outcomes, including any steps that you will take to support them to build a better relationship.

Set a reminder in your calendar to follow up with them a week later and again a month later to see if things have improved.

What should I do if the issue flares up again? 

Repeat the steps outlined above and if that doesn’t work, you may need to consider whether there is a more serious issue here – bullying, discrimination or a fundamental breakdown in trust and confidence that needs some other action such as demotion, transfer to another department or possibly even dismissal for one or both of them.

Get some HR support if you feel out of your depth.

Go to the profile of Nickie Elenor

Nickie Elenor

I have been an employment law solicitor for 15 years.

I set up Your HR Lawyer as I was fed up with the call centre models and poor service provided by the big HR support providers. So my mission is to provide the creditable alternative. I am passionate about helping employers navigate through the sometimes complex world of Employment law in a commercially savvy and straight talking way.
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