Special skills are required to build a cohesive team

Dear Joan:

I manage the outgoing marketing calls for a small firm. I work directly with the manager of our inside sales department and our finding support department. In the past, the three of us were supervised by the same person, who reported directly to the president of the company. When we began working together, our departments were fractious and although we performed similar tasks, we did not share responsibility.  

Our former supervisor was able to unify our departments into one cohesive team, through communication and cross-training. She often tempered any conflicts we had, and had a way of helping us see the other person’s point of view, without telling us how to feel.  In the end, we became more productive and happier in our jobs. About nine months ago, our supervisor accepted a position elsewhere in the company and the president elected not to fill her job; each of us now reports directly to the president. 

Prior to making the transition, he asked that we continue to work as a team. As the months pass by, we are finding it more difficult to stay unified. We all have different management styles and some are less tolerant of differences than others. 

In addition to working together, the three of us have been friends outside of work. When we became front line supervisors, the president encouraged each of us to take some continuing education courses to further develop our supervisory skills. Just recently, two of us went to a course on “Dealing with Difficult People.” Since then, the other supervisor has been withdrawn. I picked up on her behavior and attempted to mend things by inviting her to a gathering off hours. She very rudely declined. A few days later, I approached her to open a dialogue about her feelings. She indicated that she was upset because she was not invited to the after hours course. (This was done on personal time with personal funds.) She also verbalized her opinion that it made us appear as less than a team to the president. I apologized for the oversight, admitting that I should have had the presence of mind to invite her. She did not accept my apology and, in fact, stated that she felt my actions were intentional. I suggested that the three of us meet and clear the air. She declined, indicating that she would if HR was present. I agreed, and then she backed out. I was dumb-founded. Later, both the other supervisor and I approached her to offer our apology and see what we could do to get us back on track. We were unable to come to a resolution. She stated that she feels that it is us against her. Interestingly enough, if someone is excluded intentionally, she is usually the one that does it. However, most often it is on personal time. It seems odd, but I write it off to the price you pay when have a group of three friends. I just do not what else I can do to get over this hurdle. 

I own my piece of this. I realize that (a) I should have had the presence of mind to invite her or (b) I should have had the intelligence to keep it quiet since it was my own time. I included (a) in my apology to her.  We do not have a formal HR department. We have a very green HR assistant and no HR manager. Our HR assistant reports to our VP of Finance and he is a numbers guy!  Our HR assistant is friends with all three of us outside of work, but probably closest to the disgruntled supervisor. I know she tries to be objective but I don’t think she knows how to guide her through this. I am most interested in what I can do to resolve this issue or move beyond it.  


It sounds as if your former supervisor made teambuilding look so easy the president thought it was a “given” so he felt her position wasn’t necessary. This example points out the value of a skillful leader. Unfortunately, the president undoubtedly has a full plate and probably isn’t willing to step in and perform the role of Marketing and Sales Manager, let alone mediator.  

As I see it, you have two issues to resolve. You have an immediate interpersonal problem to deal with, as well as a structural problem. These kinds of conflicts will probably continue without an overseeing manager to create cross-functional direction and leadership. 

You’re right about the problems created by mixing work and personal friendships. What might have been a benign off-site course became a personal snub in the eyes of your friend. Her behavior suggests that she is an immature, insecure person who feels you two are “best friends” and she is being purposely snubbed and rejected. In spite of multiple efforts to apologize for an innocent oversight, she has chosen to reject your apologies in an attempt to make you feel guilty and cause you to chase her and beg her forgiveness. Years ago, I used to see this behavior among girls in the middle school, where I was a guidance counselor. 

As far as repairing the personal relationship, I don’t see anything else you can do beyond what you have already done. Rather than let her manipulate you further, simply say, “Well, I’ve done all I can do. I’ve apologized. It wasn’t intentional. If you continue to take it like a personal attack there’s nothing more I can do. I’d like to remain friends but if you choose not to, I can’t change that.” Then go about your business. Treat her as a professional but don’t keep chasing her for forgiveness.  

If you think it would be helpful, go and ask your former boss for some advice off the record. Perhaps she will have insight that would be helpful. You might also ask her for advice about how to approach the president about filling her empty position. I think the organization will benefit in the long run if he does.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
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