Episode 3 – The Man in the Middle: A Solution Focused Feuilleton

About six months after the merger, top management announced a major change in strategy. A substantial part of Solteam ‘s traditional products would be discontinued and replaced by new products. This required building a new factory. This strategy change caused much tumult within the company: the large investments needed for this new factory were a heavy burden on the short-term financial forecast, the unions were worried about employment, and many of the old employees were afraid that they would be “removed” along with the old plant.

For the operations department, this strategic turn meant a great deal of extra work. After all, it wasn’t just the building of the new plant that needed to be managed — the old factory had to be dismantled, too. From a safety and environmental perspective, the dismantling of the old factory was a substantial and risk-bearing project. Top management asked Peter to head this dismantling project. John would have the overall supervision.

John supervising the dismantling project.

The conflict

The first open conflict erupted when John summoned Peter to his office. John boldly announced that he wasn’t confident that Peter could carry out the project that the management had just appointed him to. John explicitly expressed his belief that Peter was too easy on his employees and especially on the external contractors. Peter was shocked when John haughtily remarked: “You have to understand, Peter, that at this point in my career I can’t afford to have you mess things up while you are under my supervision.”

John had never before criticized Peter’s way of working, or his results, this harshly. Peter reacted with anger. He said that it was John who had ruined the atmosphere, that it was John’s fault that some projects were delayed, and that he was sick and tired of the way in which John played the different project groups off against each other. He angrily slammed the door and went directly to Jeff, the CEO of Solteam., to complain. Jeff soothed Peter by promising that he would talk to John, but he never did.

In the weeks following the incident Peter avoided John at all costs. He was so angry that he started to talk to his senior project managers about the conflict. Tension between John and Peter mounted steadily. During the kick-off meeting for the dismantling project the bomb really exploded: John repeated his doubts about Peter’s capabilities for the project in front of the entire team. Peter started cursing him. After a few minutes they were yelling at each other and the meeting had to be disbanded.

This caused major problems. John and Peter had been slated to work together on the new project of dismantling the production line, but it looked like the project would run into serious problems if Peter and John couldn’t reconcile. Employees began gossiping about the “bad chemistry” between their two managers.

(to be continued)

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‘The Man in the middle’ is an excerpt from the book ‘The Solution Tango’ (and ‘Solution Focused Coaching’ e-book) by Louis Cauffman. This book presents a new approach to conquering the numerous challenges, problems, and failures that managers encounter at work, many of which are people-related. An important lesson identified in the book is that a manager must act as both the leader who provides direction for a team or company and as the coach who enables others to make the most of their skills, enabling the individual and the organization to succeed. A seven-step framework to enhance problem-solving capabilities, examples and tips, and a survival kit for sinking managers will help managers improve their people skills and learn how to approach everyday issues from a positive perspective.

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