Letting conflicts fester
Bringing tensions out into the open and then resolving them is one of the team leader's most important jobs.
By Geoffrey Colvin, FORTUNE senior editor-at-large

(FORTUNE Magazine) - Col. Stas Preczewski, coach of the Army crew at West Point a few years ago, faced a baffling problem. Through extensive testing, he had developed objective criteria to rank his rowers. He then put the eight best - his dream team - in the varsity boat and the eight others in the junior varsity boat.

The problem: The JV beat the varsity two-thirds of the time. The situation, as explained in a Harvard Business School case, was that the varsity was full of resentment over who was contributing most, while the JV, feeling they had nothing to lose, supported one another happily.

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One day Preczewski lined up the varsity crew in four pairs. He told them they were to wrestle - no punching - for 90 seconds. There were no clear winners: Each man was discovering that his opponent was just as strong and determined as he was. Preczewski then had them change opponents and wrestle again. By the third round they were choosing their own opponents - "One guy would point at another and say, 'You!'" Preczewski says. Finally, one of the rowers started laughing, and they all piled into a general brawl. Eventually someone said, "Coach, can we go row now?" From then on, the varsity boat flew.

You probably can't order members of an executive team to wrestle, tempting though it may be. But bringing tensions out into the open and then resolving them is one of the team leader's most important jobs.

Next pitfall: Hiding from the real issues


Why dream teams fail:

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