Saturday, January 27, 2007


Some employee problems pose special challenges. Consider this scenario:

The only black employee on a seven person team believes that he is being ostracized by other team members because of his race. He alleges that the team manager is prejudiced and gives him undesirable assignments. The team manager and most of the other team members claim race has nothing to do with their behavior and that they refrain from associating with the employee because he is taping or writing down accounts of their conversations. The black employee says he is simply documenting what has been done. His allegations are supported by one other employee, but that person was disciplined a few months ago and may be seeking revenge against the team manager. A few of the comments by the black employee indicate that he may be emotionally disturbed.

What do you do?

Assuming the employee's discrimination complaint is investigated by Human Resources and a finding is made, will the likely result address the problem? In many cases, regardless of which side wins, the answer is no. The underlying issues have not been addressed. A cauldron of personnel problems has been left on a fire.

One reason is that management's solution has approached only a portion of the problem. The legal issue of illegal discrimination has been tackled but the team problems, the caliber of leadership, and the possible psychological problems have not been resolved.

One solution is an HR SWAT team - composed of an employment attorney, a management consultant, an HR representative, and a psychologist - that is charged with the task of preparing a comprehensive solution. Aside from the expanded expertise, this group has the ability to produce a solution far more quickly than the traditional approach that would involve these professionals at different points and in separate meetings.

Organizations that prefer the separate approach are losing time and expertise. Ultimately, they may lose the chance to solve the real problem.


Rowan Manahan said...

Superb solution. I have been called in on a number of situations of harassment and bullying - AFTER the directors, managers and HR people have thrown their 2c at the problem and resolved nothing - and in most cases, it was too late by then.

Two further points I would make: (1) Discussions with the aggrieved individual need to focus initially on the period prior to his commencing recording all communication, as his current approach is (understandably) making his co-workers 'shun' him. Get back to the roots - what was going on way back when he first noticed that things seemed awry?

(2) The SWAT team must meet individually with all of the relevant parties and very rapidly assess the answer to the key question, "What is a happy ending for you with regard to this situation?" One-on-one meetings of this nature will be less intimidating than facing the full SWAT team and will also enable the Swatters to plot a grid of desired outcomes based on 4 answers from each of the individuals.

Ugly, ugly situation - I don't envisage them living happily ever after ...

Michael Wade said...

Very good points, Rowan. The timing of the intervention is crucial. So too is the development of some common team values as to how conflict should be handled. As you've noted, there are times when the sides have become so entrenched that a reasonable resolution is not possible. You can encounter some groups that do not want a solution.