ASK HR: My boss is intent on sowing disunity among us


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Q. I work in the production department of a milk processing firm.

My line supervisor is a difficult man who thrives in division among team members, as a result, employees are constantly squabbling.

This undermines how our department functions. How can we handle him?

You fear the production department may come apart as a result of what you view to be your supervisor’s deliberate scheme to instigate discord among his team members. While ‘divide-and-rule’ is an approach probably as old as mankind, majority of relevant literature and practice suggest that line managers draw more enduring value from collaborative approaches.

It would however be naïve to expect immaculate harmony in an organisation. Occasional misunderstanding forms part of normal relationships and therefore squabbles exist even within exemplary teams. Manufactured discord though, is altogether a different product which is bound to choke business.

Supervisors differ. Some may evoke inspiring memories. Others may elicit a sour taste. It is life. Difficult people can teach us forbearance and how not to treat others. It is best to focus on learning how to deal with the different types of individuals that come your way in the course of your career.  

Take the chance to personally demonstrate teamwork as you interact with colleagues. Sow harmony. You could volunteer to arrange informal out-of-work activities, starting with a few colleagues. You might periodically buy some milk and other foodstuff and offer it to underprivileged children. You could have a meal, play or watch some sport together.

Few people enjoy environments that foster strife. The more your colleagues realise that the real competition is not with each other but with production departments in other companies in your industry, the more likely they will collaborate. Furthermore, the team needs no consent from your supervisor to shun divisiveness. 

If your supervisor is unapproachable and hell-bent on incubating disunity, you could speak to his boss and express your concern in confidence, steering the conversation in the interest of the business. By becoming an evangelist of unity, you might help to stem the tide before conflict milks the life out of your department.

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