Work

Working with known devils vs unknown angels

KAMAL KARANTH | Updated on August 16, 2021

Letting go: A few warring teams stay together to attain their goal   -  ISTOCK.COM

Unlike relationships with friends and families, our work relationships are not unconditional

Ever wondered what would have happened to our technology world if Steve Wozniak and his colleagues at Apple had given up on Steve Jobs for his consistent outbursts against them in public settings?

Some of our colleagues are poor team players, some are temperamental, and there are others who are inconsistent in meeting timelines. The list of challenges we face with our colleagues is endless — there are many who are poor at adhering to processes, some are cold to us, and we all have faced bosses who are never appreciative. As for HR, how you wish they responded faster.

Erratic brilliance

At one of my former organisations, there were times when my operations lead did not come for the quarterly review. I was told she was always prompt with her customers and they loved her. But internally, she was the last to respond and only selectively met internal deadlines; this was infuriating.

Similarly, our VP Sales was erratic with pipeline documentation. He kept announcing wins in the sales huddles, but the CRM dashboard hardly showed anything against his name. His team members were very prompt on their documentation, and he was setting a bad precedent as their leader. But he was our best sales guy and hence despite the struggles the CFO had in forecasting the revenue, we swallowed our frustrations and let it pass.

Persistence vs Resignation

When I handed over our shareholding agreement to my co-founder, he signed it even without reading it. When I urged him to take a week and consult his lawyer, he said this was about trust and we could still end up fighting despite an agreement. Co-founder conflict is responsible for the failure of 65 per cent of start-ups, says Harvard Business School professor Noam Wasserman, in his book, The Founder’s Dilemma. Picture the difficulties co-founders must have had in building enterprises such as HP, Google, Infosys and more recently Airbnb and Flipkart. We have only seen their happy pictures together — I wish they could have paused and taken pictures whenever they had their frosty moments. We have also seen co-founders exit from marquee start-ups such as Facebook, Snapchat, Ola, Housing.com, and Shopclues under various circumstances.

In TheFounder's Dilemma, Warshaw explains that in a friendship if you go along with your pal’s choice of a movie and it doesn’t work out, you’ve only lost two hours of your life. But when you are business partners, the wrong choice “is possibly a failure of life goal”.

In our workplace, we are constantly judging our colleagues consciously and unconsciously. This puts pressure on our everyday transactions with them and leads to relationship breakdowns. Unlike our relationships with friends and families, our work relationships are not unconditional. Singular outages of behaviour cause irreparable damage.

Ever wondered why some warring teams manage to stay together and achieve their goals. I guess what works is the predictability factor. I had a love-hate relationship with one of my former bosses. We had stormy meetings and I never heard a word of appreciation from her. However, in public settings, she was all praise for me. She also gave me exposure and growth and was most consistent in this approach. This gave me assurance of her predictability.

Another hallmark of warring teams’ ability to stick together and perform stems from the recognition that the goal is larger than the conflict. A sales head of a company that was listing for an IPO once told me, “My CFO isn’t approving my pricing models and at times was embarrassing me in front of my team. However, I knew he was possibly leading us to a successful listing. So, grudgingly I let go of my ego as we were on the right path as a company. I hated his guts and never invited him home for lunch, but I did not quit in rage as I knew we as a group respected him as an astute CFO.”

Psychological safety

Our ability to deal with the imperfect behaviour of colleagues, unappreciative bosses, and underperforming reportees is based on the psychological safety we experience at an organisational level. Of course, this must be experienced on a regular basis even if it does not come from our immediate team or supervisor. Whenever I was on collision course with my boss, I made sure that I had his boss’s back. The institutional processes and leaders support are key factors for us to feel safe and continue work.

Else we will eternally be in search of unknown angels out there as our new employers or new colleagues. I prefer the known devils simply because of the predictability they bring even though I don’t enjoy their company sometimes.

KAMAL KARANTH

 

Kamal Karanth is co-founder of Xpheno, a specialist staffing company

Published on August 16, 2021

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