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I manage a small webcast production team of volunteers. On a purely technical level, I would rank them in the top 10% of teams in our niche.

Because we are small and volunteer, everyone has been trained to at least basic proficiency in each role. I try to keep a rotation of people through each role so that we stay in practice, and no single person's absence will cripple us. Any one team member can get a production to air, even if it isn't to our normal standards of quality.

Our productions are 98% live-to-stream. We work in close quarters, under heavy pressure. We have a strict understanding that the "Technical Director has full control of the production", and extended conversations should be saved for debrief.

I've spent five years building this team to its current level of proficiency, and don't want to see it get torn apart from the inside.

Recently, my two senior techs have started giving each other the cold shoulder. The mutual frustration is rising to the point where both have indirectly mentioned that they are considering leaving the team. While I could handle the loss of one, the loss of two senior techs would put me back in the position of rebuilding the team nearly from scratch.

What I think is happening is that under pressure one (or both) of these people go into "boss mode". In response, the other feels a need to assert their independence and refuses to acknowledge their input. The result is positive feedback in a high gain loop (place an open mic in front of the speaker).

How can I address this?

  • "While I could handle the loss of one, the loss of two senior techs would put me back in the position of rebuilding the team" if the situation doesn't gets better if one of them leaves its a lost case anyway – Swizzler May 16 '17 at 21:01
  • I already have timelines under which they will be leaving the team to pursue further education (1 year and 3 years respectively). I've decided that the problem is that management (that's me) allowed the situation to develop, and now I am looking for what I can do to resolve it now or prevent it in the future. – pojo-guy May 16 '17 at 21:11
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    I dont see how can we help you without more details. Beside talk to them – Juan Carlos Oropeza May 16 '17 at 21:31
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    If you can afford to let go one of them without losing your team, go for it. And it would help too, making clear to the one left standing that he's not the winner but the one who will deal with the crap the other guy had in his plate while you fill the empty seat. You don't have to please everyone, just mind the health of your project. – user49901 May 16 '17 at 22:43
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First, you need to talk to each person individually and find out what the problem is from their perspective. It may be what you think or it may be that Guy A had an affair with the wife of Guy B or all sorts of other things. The actions you take will be determined by the real reason they are giving each other the cold shoulder. And don't be surprised if they have different reasons for being upset. Maybe A is upset because B tried a power play, but B uses the power play because he was upset that A did something else. Be sure to find out what it would take for them to get past this. Maybe an apology would work, maybe they have such a hatred that nothing would work. At this point you don't know.

It is likely though that you may have to choose one or the other. So make that determination as soon as possible after talking to them. You might need to formally make one of them the senior person who has the final say or you might need to say this person goes and this person stays. Without more information on what they perceive is the problem, it is impossible to say what the best actions should be. In general I would choose based on who has the more valuable skill set which includes the one most likely being able to get along with everyone else on the team. If one person is clearly at fault (see the potential affair idea) then that becomes easier to determine who to choose if push comes to shove.

  • This is good advice in general. I have known both of these people pretty much from birth, and there is nothing on the scale of an affair between them. In addition to working on my team, they also work together in other venues as parts of other teams. On at least one of those teams "A" is in a supervisory role over "B", which certainly contributes to the tension. – pojo-guy May 16 '17 at 22:34
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    After discussion, what had happened was that in cross training them so much I had let the roles become blurred. I accepted responsibility for my role in creating the conflict, and reinforced the boundaries of the roles and proper lines of communication. I'll give it time and see how things pan out. – pojo-guy May 22 '17 at 12:24
  • @pojo-guy how did it work out? – Alex M Apr 4 at 21:22
  • The one moved on about a year ago and is doing well in her new roles, discovering a whole new world beyond our team that she loves. She still joins us on occasion to work the creative end of the team, where she has really discovered her passion, and she does not rub nerves the wrong way so much. The other spent a year as team lead while we expanded from one to two teams, and is currently transitioning into my role, freeing me to work on other aspects of the larger team that need upgrading. – pojo-guy Apr 5 at 4:09
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No one is irreplaceable, especially in today's world where there is a surfeit of exceptionally well-qualified talent. You need to let each know that they don't have to like each other, but they need to be civil with one another for the sake of the team. If neither values the success of the team, then let them go and get new team players who understand concepts like self-restraint, courtesy, respect and the importance of being a team player. Goodness, I myself worked with someone I found lacking on a personal level for years and managed to convey the impression that we were a rock solid team because we were. Sometimes a conflict between personalities is just inevitable and no amount of counselling is going to fundamentally change that relationship. But, every team member needs to know that they are not the team and that whether the team succeeds or fails is due to the coordinated efforts of the entire team. In short, being a team player means putting aside your ego and doing what the team needs for you to do even if that means getting along with someone you don't like.

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    No one is irreplaceable, just like building a base on Mars isn't impossible, but relative to anyone's situation the amount of effort (usually money) to replace someone can be highly impractical. So in other words I think the term no one is irreplaceable is overused. – The Muffin Man May 17 '17 at 21:48
  • And, yet employees and contingent workers get replaced all the time. Companies know that they may even be able to replace top dollar earning talent with someone smarter and cheaper. Until programmers in Mumbai can command the same wage for work that a programmer in San Francisco or New York earns, these kinds of replacements can be expected to continue. Unless of course the H1B program gets severely curtailed. – slevy1 May 17 '17 at 22:27
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    Well, I can't replace them with remote workers. Live video production requires on premise resources for a number of technical and non-technical reasons. For starters, they need to see the screens in real time, and working remotely introduces too much lag so they can't respond in a timely manner to events (even if the remote login didn't crash the control software). – pojo-guy May 18 '17 at 16:29
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I think you will have to give them exactly what they want i.e. Let them be in 'boss mode independently'. You can think about ways to split the tasks at top level and make them each in charge of one tasks and announce it to rest if the team. Something like 'content development' and 'design' but of course you would know better on how to split the tasks.

You may not be able to formal new roles but sometimes creating these informal roles publicly helps to serve egos of your top performers. Creating Tasks such that they truly have their independence as much as possible would be the key part which you would have to take care.

I had a similar situation in a research project and I could sense the tension between two of my team members..I had two divide the project two different ways in two parts and then give them lead on each part in one division. Like one way of dividing was patents and publications and I made one in charge of all the patents we need to file and another one all the journal papers we need to write. Another way of diving the project at the same time was production of the idea and new ideas implementation and again I made them lead of each task. It worked out well for everyone including the project !

Make sure you actually follow through these informal lead roles and recognise their authority an responsibilities regularly in meetings.

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