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Incompatibility in the Office

Irreconcilable differences are a common reason for divorce, and while there might be jokes around squeezing the toothpaste tube from the top or the bottom, it is a fact that the smallest things become huge issues in an incompatible relationship.  (I have to admit that my husband of 32 years and I solved this one by using different brands).

At work, it is as difficult as at home.  Incompatibility is a rather vague description, because it is not easy to pin down exactly why two people simply do not get the best out of each other.   In a boss /employee scenario, it may have a serious impact on productivity, as well as making one or both extremely unhappy.  A junior person may even feel that he is being bullied.

There is also the possibility that they actually get on well together but their work styles are so different that their deliverables are not being achieved, anyway.

Years ago, I had a Services Manager who was a brilliant trainer of new software field consultants, but in all other areas of his work, he drove the rest of the management team crazy.  He was constantly late for appointments, spent hours remodelling working models without any real objective other than he liked to fiddle, wouldn't recognise a deadline if he fell over it and generally created work for everybody else.  Did we like him?   We really did.   Could we work with him?  We really couldn't.   Are we still friendly?   I meet him for lunch 3 or 4 times a year, and it is such fun.    And he has generously shared where I was incompatible with his style, too!

So, the incompatibility can relate to the job or to colleagues, bosses and direct reports.   How do you establish whether it is incompatibility, incompetence, bad behaviour or just plain old poor performance?

In bigger companies, a simple test is to separate the two and monitor any behavioural and performance changes.   This is obviously very difficult in smaller organisations, but ensuring that the two take leave at separate times should also enable senior management to assess performance differences.

Once you have established that they both work better when separated, conversations need to take place to discuss that their work relationship is creating high levels of entropy.   One of the key negative results of entropy is that it is like throwing a stone in a pond, the initial plop cascades out, in ever enlarging circles.

Ideally, if both are good at their jobs, it would be sensible to permanently separate them.   If this is not possible, there are two ways forward, one or both has to leave, or they need to find a way to make working together possible.   It is very challenging to apply fault if it is a genuine incompatibility and that's where greater good has to be part of the discussions.   It is a harsh principle sometimes, but it has to apply in cases where a negative relationship is seriously encroaching on a division or company's ability to be effective and viable in the market place.






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Explanations and Notes
  1. entropy
    ˈɛntrəpi/
    noun
    noun: entropy; plural noun: entropies; symbol: S
    1. 1.
      Physics
      a thermodynamic quantity representing the unavailability of a system's thermal energy for conversion into mechanical work, often interpreted as the degree of disorder or randomness in the system.
      "the second law of thermodynamics says that entropy always increases with time"
    2. 2.
      lack of order or predictability; gradual decline into disorder.
      "a marketplace where entropy reigns supreme"    Source = Google definitions

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