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In the office ; Try to mend feud before firing employees

>Q: I have two team members who just can't get along. Their animosity is causing problems for the group, and I'm thinking one needs to move on for the good of the whole. Each has specific skills that we need. How do I begin to decide who goes and who stays?

A: The consequences of their failure to work together need to be made clear, and then they need one last chance. At the same time, consider whether you're better off replacing both -- it's often easier to replace skills than to repair attitude.

To manage this situation, remain calm and keep emotion out of it. If this isn't easy for you, take the time to notice your feelings -- anger, frustration or resentment -- and get them under control.

Then assess the situation as you would if you were outside the team. Map out the team dynamics, noting how the problem employees interact with the team. Pay attention to the conflict triggers, and be more specific about the effects on the team as a whole.

What would success look like for each of the combatants? If they are struggling for dominance, what is it that they want? What aspects, if any, are reasonable, and what do they need to let go of?

Finally, determine whether you've managed the situation as fully as you should have. Many managers avoid the conflict involved in addressing this type of situation, letting it escalate out of control.

The most important step you can take is to sit down with the two employees and clearly lay out the consequences of their collective behavior. In order to be effective in this conversation, plan it out, using three steps.

*Behavior. "The two of you are consistently disagreeing and sabotaging each other's work (or whatever the specifics are)."

*Outcome. "As a result, other team members feel very uncomfortable and are having to pick up extra work."

*Consequence. "If this doesn't change, I will have to let you go in the interest of the team's well-being."

Be sure you aren't making idle threats by having your boss and your HR group buy in to the plan, and be ready to follow whatever internal processes you have for documenting performance issues.

Ideally, one or both will be motivated to change, and you need to be ready to help them. If feasible, assign work that gives them some space from each other, line up coaches or mentors for them, and have regular conversations to mediate and defuse the tensions between them.

If the situation doesn't improve, then it's time to decide which employee needs to go. Part will be skills; one person might be harder to replace than the other. Part will be attitude -- if one is more "me first" and has been more resistant to working together, that should help make your decision. And if you think the situation could recur if either is kept, consider replacing both.

The groundwork of working through the situation will provide valuable direction should a change be needed, and may be what it takes to help these troublesome employees become valuable contributors.


>Q: I can't keep up with the avalanche of e-mail. I find myself missing important meetings or overlooking communications. If I try to clear my in-box entirely, it will take hours, maybe days.

A: Audrey Thomas, founder of, has three tips. First, presort all non-time-sensitive items, such as newsletters, into folders. Develop a habit to check on those folders with unread items when you are waiting at an airport or can sit and go through it.

Second, every e-mail represents a decision waiting to be made. Clutter is a result of delayed decisions. You have to force a decision, and most "take only a nano-second," she said. About 50 percent of e-mails can be deleted once they are read. Delete, forward, delegate or drag it to a task or to-do list.

The last tip is to color-code your incoming e-mails. You might want to code everything from your boss in blue, so that you give blue e-mails a higher priority.

Finally, "I do not recommend wiping out your inbox and starting new in 2011," she said. In a short time, it will be overloaded again. Look at what's causing the pile-up. Most likely, it's the volume and lack of decision making. Remember the golden rule: The more you send, the more you shall receive. Consider picking up the phone and covering the same amount as six e-mails.

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