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Business as Usual in a Dysfunctional Environment


I am the second highest ranking executive in a mid-size division of a large company.

The director of human resources met with me due to a complaint by one of my employees. Someone complained that I was showing preferential treatment to certain employees.

I was surprised. I care about creating a culture of fairness and trust.

I asked the HR director who complained. I wanted to make this right, and make sure to correct any actions of mine that would have caused this perception.

Surprisingly, she refused to tell me who made the accusation or provide details about the incident that triggered the complaint. She considered it confidential.

About a week later, at a regularly scheduled meeting with my boss, he wanted to know who was getting the preferential treatment from me. Then, he suggested it might be someone who I worked with at another location long ago. He pointed to our obvious friendship. 

Since I didn’t discuss the matter with anyone but HR, I guess the confidential matter was taken to the top. There is no friendship with the former co-worker outside of a business relationship. We don’t socialize, I don’t know where that came from.

Is this normal? Nothing like this has ever happened to me before. I seem to be caught up in gossip that I don’t know how to deal with.


Can you hear me scream?

I’d like to tell you that this behavior wasn’t normal. Unfortunately, this type of dysfunction happens everywhere. Normal? Unfortunately, yes. Healthy? No. This behavior is highly destructive to the culture of the organization. Let's take a closer look at the issue. It is explainable and resolvable.

Additional Details

As we talked about the situation, I learned an important detail to this story: Everyone involved in this behavior has been working together for at least 15 years. Except you. You were transferred to this location to address low-performance issues. You turned around the problem areas. 

Questions to ask yourself when examining this issue:

  1. I wonder how the 15-year vets, who were part of the performance problem, responded to the news that they needed to change in order to improve?  People hate to be forced into change. Can you imagine that there might be resentment? It doesn't matter if the resentment is warranted. In these situations, a particular feeling doesn't have to be valid to be real. Your role in leadership is to find a remedy for healing within your little dysfunctional system.
  2. The HR director told on you. Went directly to the CEO. The conversation with the CEO probably contained details. I don't believe that the HR Director would get away with 'this is a confidential matter' when discussing this with an executive of his rank. Does he know the details? Probably. Why is he playing games with you? Is it because you didn't ask for the details?
  3. Someone on your staff makes a complaint about you to the HR Director. Is the complaint even real? My guess is that this issue isn’t documented. Who on your staff might feel the most resentment toward you? Who has been the most resistant to change? Were duties and responsibilities reassigned? Who lost authority? Over what? Who's ego might have faced a few challenges with the new program?

My take on the situation

This type of odd, secretive coalition happens innocently when a group of people shares years of working together. As members of the ‘veteran’ group grow within an organization, professional boundaries often become dysfunctional. Cross-generational coalitions are formed over the years that are inappropriate and damaging.

When a situation like this is discovered, there is an opportunity to make positive change so that the team works in a more functional way. 

Now the bad part: The people involved aren’t aware of this dysfunction. All of them are adults and should know better. This behavior has been simmered into the sauce for years. Inappropriate coalitions in the office have become the norm and go completely unnoticed.

It’s time for you to change the narrative.  

The first thing to do is to become the humble hero/leader. Ask for help. You need the help from every member of this coalition to change it. Meet with each person individually, not to discuss the elephant in the room, the complaint. Meet with them for no other reason but to get to know them. Ask each one of them for suggestions. Ask each one of them for help with something special. What project can you award? What responsibilities? Thoughtfully speak with each team member and express gratitude for being part of the team, and helping the team be the very best it can be.

Get buy-in. First individually, then a short while later with the group.

You need more time with your CEO. It is important that he know that you handled the situation, the details about the way you did it. You need more transparency in that relationship.

And, your best friend the HR Director. For some reason, it doesn't seem that she is very fond of you. ha. With this one, you must gather your strength and ask for her help. She doesn't treat you like an ally, with this strategy you will make her one. Ask for her help to fix this situation. The two of you can be allies in this. The greatest leaders know how to connect and motivate. Connect with her, let her know that you respect her knowledge of the players, and her wisdom. Ask her to work with you.

I know this entire situation has been difficult for you. You have the business savvy and maturity to pull this off.

Keep me posted.   Barb


Work is Hell, Suffering is Optional.

To schedule a complimentary discovery meeting with me:


Write to me at:   Barbara.goldman@barbaragoldman.net


barbara goldman


RMT trained strategic intervention coach. (Tony Robbins, Chloe Madanes). Thirty years of executive search. PhD in office politics. Work is Hell, Suffering is Optional. I help my clients find joy in their lives, and meaning in their work. Clients Include: Executives who are transitioning Professionals who strategically plan their careers Executives exit plan Professionals who are changing careers Strategic Intervention for Employment International Coach Federation member. ICF

Location:  Lima, oh

Last Active:  November 22, 2018 10:15 AM (EDT)

Zip Code: 45806 0 Reviews

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