peer-to-peer recognition

Peer-to-peer recognition schemes: Helping reduce the impact of corrosive chemistry

If we’re honest, offices can be strange places, and the interpersonal relationships between people can be complicated.

Take a simple example: Two employees of similar ability, both loyal to a company, both hardworking, ambitious and socially well-adjusted. At first glance, this sounds like the bedrock of a strong team.

Sometimes though, two people quite simply don’t get on. When one walks into the room, the other looks away. When one cracks a joke, the other raises an eyebrow. It may not be anybody’s fault, but for some reason, there’s a chemistry issue.

Mixing oil and vinegar takes management

Most of the time it isn’t a real problem, a decent team leader can quickly spot an issue and manage it. Keep the pair on separate projects, don’t seat them within each other’s eye-line, take a diplomatic approach when one comments about the other, the usual management techniques for assuaging conflict.

So far so good, but nothing lasts forever and the mutual aversion between the two can become corrosive when the manager decides that it’s time to move on, particularly when the pair would be the logical successors to the big chair. When this happens, you realistically have four options: restructure, hire a new leader, force the two to lead in partnership, or promote one over the head of the other.


Re-arrange the department

The first option, assuming it’s feasible, is to rearrange your department to give both people some leadership responsibilities and opportunities in separate teams. Problematically, this approach can be more complicated than planning the seating at a wedding breakfast. It requires considerable thought to implement effectively and comes with potential to hamper the performance of all the teams involved as the new structure beds-in.

Bring a new sheriff to town

The second option is to promote or bring someone else in to replace the manager. This means both deputies could end up disgruntled, meaning your team risks losing two senior individuals shortly after the original manager moved on. This leaves you with an inexperienced team struggling to fill three pairs of shoes.

Join hands and work together

The third option is to promote both to co-lead the team, sharing responsibilities equally in the hope they can work through their issues and forge a mature, professional working relationship. This can be an effective approach but, if the pair preferred to work separately in the past, they may not enjoy being forced to work together. This could develop into an unproductive power struggle.

Promote one not the other

The final option is to promote one and keep the other in place. There are a couple of benefits to this approach, the two primarily being that disruption is kept to a minimum and, being realistic,. You are only putting one person’s nose out of joint and you only risk losing one manger in a difficult situation instead of two.

Managing rivals without overseeing a disaster

If you decide to take the final route, it’s necessary to make agreements with the person not being promoted to keep their talent in the business. Implementing some sort of transition agreement can be effective in this respect, helping the person understand while they have been passed over at this point, their time will come soon.

If this is going to be anything more than limp consolation, it’s worth formalising. A fair way to do this would be to associate some new projects with clearly defined key performance indicators (KPIs) to be met before the deputy can move on to their next role within the business.

Here’s the rub: The manager likely to be managing the KPIs is the new line manager, the very person that the deputy doesn’t really get on massively well with. This situation can quickly turn a mild mutual dislike into a full-blown HR issue, something that should be avoided if possible.

Some peer-to-peer recognition could help aleviate a situation like this.

Offering a different perspective

While the line manager is likely to be the final arbiter of performance, having an element of peer-to-peer input in the decision making process can help dilute any mutual disdain. It can provide a perspective separate from the newly installed team-leader their unwilling subordinate.

Peer-to-peer recognition schemes are relatively simple to set-up and maintain. They make it easy for individuals from across the business to call out good behaviour and performance by their peers. The input that they provide can be automatically collated and managed, and having input from a wide variety of people can remove some of the subjectivity that that some KPIs suffer from.

It gives both sides evidence to support their perspectives in any performance discussions, potentially taking some of the sting out of any difficult conversations that need to be had, reducing the potential for an accusation of personal bias. It can also give other people in the business the chance to balance opinions if they feel personal bias is affecting performance related decisions.

Ultimately, most companies want to be able to manage their talent without getting embroiled in too many HR complications. Chemistry can be a difficult thing to predict, but when there is a tension between two talented members of a team, it needs careful management. Having a method of measuring performance to provide a counterpoint to a team leader’s opinion can be a valuable tool in creating an equitable environment that retains and nurtures talent.

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