Last week, we facilitated a difficult discussion between three Co-Founders that were, arguably, the most transparent and understanding group we have worked with, to date. They talked openly to one another, trusted each another, and genuinely enjoyed working together. My partner and I had to quickly iterate on our facilitation model, as it was originally designed for teams with pre-existing communication and transparency issues, and they had no significant issue with the former.
One change we made during our one-on-one interviews was to ask more 'deep-dive' questions to learn more about their true intentions in joining the company and what unique value proposition they saw themselves contributing to the team and company, moving forward. My initial impression was that their current style of communication was too harmonious and 'politically correct' to properly address internal conflict. This is a common issue among teams that are comprised of former co-workers who, over the years, developed very close friendships.
According to popular literature, teams of former co-workers are well suited for handling internal conflict. This is due to their pre-existing professional relationship and direct experience managing and overcoming internal conflict. On the other hand, teams of close friends often run into trouble when their professional relationships begin to conflict with their personal friendships and force them to make costly sacrifices in either relationship, or even worse, in both.
Equipped with this knowledge, I followed my intuition and probed them individually on 'uncomfortable' topics amongst close friends, which included the following:
-how they gauged their own roles & responsibilities relative to others within the organization;
-team commitment level;
-& areas of ambiguity/uncertainty within the current business model/timeline.
Drawing from the information I obtained from our initial one-on-one interviews, I launched into the group discussion by highlighting the teams' core strengths, namely, their mutual trust and respect for one another, and explaining how these same strengths can create problems when mutual trust and respect translates into deference and reticence within individuals who ought to be voicing their opinions and concerns, especially at such an early and critical point of the startup's lifecycle. By identifying and addressing inconsistencies in how each member evaluated themselves, one another, and the overall direction of the business, we were able to improve their communications as a team, especially in the areas of transparency and candor, which builds a strong foundation of openness to draw upon when inevitably faced with internal conflict in the future.
Chris - The Resolution Company