You Can’t Lead a Divided House

I was enjoying a drink in the local beer garden near our office, it’s what one does on a warm summer day in Bavaria. For those that haven’t experienced the beer garden atmosphere, its gemütlich, a German word that doesn’t translate well into English, yet it means something like a cozy, comfortable setting. The translation doesn’t do it justice, but I trust you get the idea.

While most beer gardens have a self-serve and an area where you can be served, the area where I was sitting was service only, and the feeling of gemütlichkeit led me to order another drink.

I stopped the waiter and asked, “could you bring me another beer?”

“I’m not your waiter,” he replied.

“Could you let my waiter know I’d like another beer?” I asked.

“No, I can’t”, he said.

Side Note: For those of you that have worked with me, you know that words like can’t, it’s impossible, and that will never work are potentially explosive words and phrases that set me into motion.

“So why can’t you pass on my order,” I asked, trying to be polite, yet my mental dashboard was beginning to light up.

“I haven’t talked to him for six months, he’s responsible this side of the beer garden and I manage that side of the beer garden and that’s how it works. We had an argument and we have not worked it out yet.”

Wow, I thought. I’m sitting in a patch of beer garden paradise, wrapped in this atmosphere of gemütlichkeit from my perspective, and I am unknowingly sitting on a Civil War battle line.

How many of us are impacted by imaginary boundary lines like these?

Imagine you are a colleague of these two. How would you like to work in that type of atmosphere, having to work around two colleagues that can’t or won’t talk to each other because both of them think they are right about something that happened over six months ago?

I spoke with a senior executive recently who said to me, “There are hidden agendas in my team. Everyone seems friendly on the outside, but there are unspoken issues under the surface.”

I asked him how this impacts the way his business runs. He said it was very difficult, almost impossible to discuss critical issue and take any decisions in this executive team as everyone was trying to keep their pet projects and protect their turf.

Leaders can not accept arbitrary lines of personal interest that come between what’s best for the business and the customers. In my case, it meant waiting a few extra minutes for a beer.  While this will not prevent me from going back to this lovely spot, it did cause me to do some thinking about the number of turf battles, hidden agendas and  emotional viruses that block well-intentioned professionals from doing an exceptional job.

If you a leader trying to manage a divided house, take steps to mend the relationships. Meet with each party individually, get their perspective and then share your expectations of how people should work together. If they aren’t able to get their relationship to a professional level, offer to help them yourself. If this doesn’t work, you can ask me or another qualified professional to help. I recently spent two days in Paris trying to bring two highly valuable professionals back into a constructive relationship. In the end, it wasn’t possible and one was asked to leave the company.

Don’t ignore the signs of a divided house – the costs of not playing together are huge and it’s important that leaders help team members own up to a unified house.

You can discuss this with your leadership team at the next beer garden meeting. Remember, business success is tough enough to achieve, don’t let a divided house create internal competition and distract you from your business goals.

Contact Information

Dan Norenberg
Wensauerplatz 11
81245 Munich
Phone: +49 172 862 5123

About Dan Norenberg

Dan Norenberg improves leadership performance and organization results through Executive Ownershift®, his transformational growth process for executive teams. As a trusted advisor, consultant and professional speaker, Dan’s mission is to enable executive teams and their organizations to play at their best.