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If You Cain, You're Abel

If anyone of you grew up in the church, then you might have gotten my Cain and Abel reference. If you’re not familiar with the bible story, Cain and Abel are brothers. The one brother, Cain, kills his brother Abel out of jealousy. It’s a powerful story and I can tell you when you hear it as an 8-year old, you begin to eye your siblings with a bit more scrutiny.

Why am I bringing up the subject of jealousy?

Because jealousy can ruin a team. Years ago, I had the good fortune of supervising two rock stars who had valuable skills that were completely opposite of each other.

In my mind, they perfectly complimented one other and I felt so fortunate to have them both on my team. What I didn’t realize was that they were developing a hatred for each other because of their jealousy of each other’s skills. And this went on for years, right under my nose.

When it came to a head, I remember thinking, “How the hell did I miss the signs?” Not only was their jealousy and anger hurting them, but it was also negatively impacting the entire team. And I had no idea how to repair things.

Who could I hire?

Who could fix this mess that I missed?

Why didn’t anyone tell me? Why didn’t anyone trust me enough to tell me this was brewing?

I’m sure you’re wondering what happened. Well, I did something I had never done before and I’m not sure I would ever do it again, but for this particular staff and team it worked:

I put the entire staff in a room and left them with questions to answer. They weren’t coming out until those questions had been fully and thoughtfully answered.

  1. What is the core of the issue?

  2. When did it start?

  3. How is it impacting the staff?

  4. How can we fix it?

They were in there for hours!! I remember thinking, “I hope this works and they don’t start killing each other.” It was very much like waiting for a jury to return a verdict and as the hours rolled on, I became increasingly anxious and unsure about my choice of ‘solution.’

But the reason I took this tactic was because I wanted them to feel free to be vulnerable and honest with each other without their boss in the room. Your kids will be much more honest with each other when you’re not around, too.

The result is that they didn’t hate each other, they just were jealous of each other’s skills and thought each one better than the other. They came to realize that each one brought individual strengths and the team needed both. They also realized they had wasted so much time hating one another when they should have appreciated what each brought to the team.

As their supervisor, I should have paid closer attention to how they worked and communicated with one another. I should have picked up on the palpable energy when they were in the room together. I missed the signs and I am equally to blame for the negativity that seeped into the team.

The moral of this (somewhat biblical) story is – when you Cain spot conflict early, you’re Abel to save the entire team.

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