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Keep Turf Wars From Destroying Your Company

It's great that your employees are passionate about what they do. Until they disagree. Passionately.
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Ideological differences can slow down a company, halt experimentation, mire employees in bureaucracy, create political battlegrounds and help create a not-fun environment. 

You would think that ideological differences are massive disagreements about how things should be done. Yet at their core, most ideological differences are really superficial problems. If you can get to the bottom of the issues, you probably find you have more in common with the other camp than you realize. Here are some tips and tricks I've learned to help me deal with people who think and act with what appears to be a massively different agenda.

Stop questioning the motives

It's easy to question someone's motives when they disagree with you. It's easy to say, "That person is just acting in their own self-interest, and trying to build an empire." By dismissing someone in this way, you undermine everything they say. Conveniently, you no longer have to see where you're potentially wrong. You shut down your ability to listen, learn, and improve. Worse, you can easily miss how you're wrong.

Instead, assume the other person is trying to do the best thing for the organization. Try to listen to their points as if they had only altruistic intentions.

Agree on the problems

When we were launching our first social game, Bejeweled Blitz, there were two camps. One was the quick-and-dirty camp. They lobbied to just get something up as fast as possible, and to adapt from there. The other side wanted to take it more slowly, develop shared services, and make sure the servers didn't collapse as traffic grew.

The quick-and-dirty camp felt like the slow camp was just trying to stop them from innovating, and was blocking the path to a new world of gaming. In reality, the slow camp was concerned about scalability and the reusability of code. Both sides were important. Although we opted to move quick and dirty, we're now trying solve scalability and efficiency issues across multiple games.

What we should have done was to first agree on the bigger issue: A huge number of people were playing games on Facebook. It’s a whole new way of developing and supporting games, and PopCap needed to start learning how to adapt its success to that new world.

Avoid the game of telephone by embracing conflict

We may think we’re no longer toddlers, but the childhood game of telephone happens all the time. Humans are flawed creatures, entrepreneurs doubly so. It’s easy for all of us to misinterpret things the way we want to hear them, and then re-communicate something colored with our bias. This is amplified by the fact that we’re generally conflict-adverse. 

It’s easier to get agreement in one-on-one meetings, but it’s often better to get everyone in the room. Pay attention to people’s inconsistencies and notice when they’re avoiding conflict. It’s easy to feel that ideological differences are intractable and to stop listening. But it’s vitally important that everyone get things out on the table and discuss their differences openly.

Never forget that the majority of people have the organization’s best interests at heart and are trying to do the right thing. The best leaders will avoid taking strong ideological stances themselves, and thus help lead by example.

Last updated: Mar 22, 2012

JOHN VECHEY | Co-founder, PopCap Games

John Vechey is a co-founder of PopCap Games, creators of Bejeweled, Peggle, and Plants Vs. Zombies. Vechey blogs about wealth, simplicity, spirituality, and video games. Follow him on Twitter at @johnvechey.




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