Turf Wars

Oct. 1, 2006
If you see turf wars developing between associates within your organization, it's time to find the cause and deal with it.

Turf wars naturally crop up among electrical distributors competing for the same customers. When turf wars occur within your own organizations, they usually send sales and profits into a downward spiral.

If associates within your company are battling one another, it's time to identify which combination of the following six causes need to be addressed: insecurity, changes in leadership, lack of resources, internal competition, poor communication and the dogfight manager.


When someone feels uncertain about his or her position, skill level or job security, the insecurity often manifests itself as a turf war. Insecure managers or salespeople quickly blame others for errors. An insecure employee will develop a “victim” mentality and always is the brunt of something that “just happened.” Often defensive about decisions and protective of turf, an insecure employee may not want any assistance or invasion into his area of responsibility. Lastly, an insecure employee will sometimes lash out, causing a tremendous distraction to your other employees who get sucked into the drama. The entire organization suffers as a result.

For managers who see a turf war developing around an individual's insecurities, the best way to put it to rest is to take control. First, stress the policy that, “We are a team that helps everyone get better by sharing information and assistance.” By creating an environment of mutual assistance, you are telling employees no sacred cows exist in your department, and that you're not interested in anyone trying to be the lead dog. If you are consistent in this expectation, turf wars will be kept to a minimum.

The manager should also have a talk with the insecure individual to find out what might be causing this insecure reaction. Is there greater pressure on the individual to perform financially because the spouse lost his or her job? Is the individual coasting? Has the employee given up because he thinks he can't compete anymore? Coach this person through the insecurities; you will not only help the employee move forward but also remove the catalyst for the turf war.

Changes in leadership

When leadership changes, employees sometimes revert to animal-based programming deep in their DNA to try to determine the new “alpha.” The new leader may bring unknown skills and expectations, and everyone wants to make a positive first impression as well as take the opportunity to climb in the reordering of the pack. In some cases, people may feel they were overlooked for the promotion and create a turf war with the incoming leader.

It's tricky for any manager stepping into a new position to be assertive enough to establish alpha status without shutting down everyone in the process. It gets more complicated if that new manager is promoted from within the current employee staff. As the new leader, call a department meeting and address such issues by making your expectations abundantly clear, explaining your work style, and “taking the elephant out of the room” by addressing the reordering and positioning.

Lack of resources

In a downsizing environment, a scarcity mentality often causes people to feel threatened, making them protective of what they perceive as theirs. In other words, they start guarding their turf.

A scarcity mentality breeds protectionism. People play to not lose instead of playing to win. Salespeople focus on maintaining what they have instead of exploring new opportunities, which only perpetuates limited resources. The lack of resources also ill-prepares and ill-equips staff for creating additional resources. If training is reduced or eliminated or the sales staff isn't continuously upgraded with technology to be competitive, panic will set in and cause insecurity.

There is a difference between being poor and being broke. The difference is attitude. “Poor” perceives the situation will not change. “Broke” believes the lack of resources is a temporary condition that will be resolved with good decision making focused on the long-term benefits of short-term sacrifices.

When facing a lack of resources, be sure to focus on the longer-term overall benefit and maintain a positive focus. No one would consider chopping off a limb as a good way to lose weight, so why do that in business?

Internal competition

In the United States, people love sports. Using sports analogies in business, we compare athletic heroics to individuals' performance in the workplace, and we try to create the same type of competitive environment believed to drive athletes to greater heights.

The flaw with this logic, as any team manager will tell you, is that internal competition among the players can cause the team to suffer at the expense of star attention. Competition needs to be outside the organization on a global playing field. Internal strife only gives the opposition opportunity to get ahead.

Healthy internal competition should be based on self improvement with employees competing against their own individual goals as opposed to competing against others on the sales force. With this type of competition, there can be more than one winner. If the team gels, members of the team will assist each other so everyone on the team achieves his or her personal goals. Everyone wins, especially the company if goals are set correctly.

Poor communication

With the advances in communication technology, one might think we would have eliminated communication problems, but they continue to be one of the biggest causes of profit loss and turf wars. Withholding information, incomplete information and inaccurate information are all examples of poor communication no matter whether it's intended or unintentional.

The phrase, “Knowledge is power,” is often misunderstood by those fighting a turf war. Although withholding information can make a person feel more valuable or in control in the short term, in the long term, withholding information can be detrimental to the common good of the company.

The new communication model for business is the Fish Bowl model. Like a fish bowl, which can be viewed from any angle, information is freely distributed. Everything can be seen and is out in the open. With a wealth of information at our fingertips via the Internet, the quicker companies get on that model, the quicker information can be shared and the better communications can happen. Technology today allows the process of information sharing to occur faster, but the key to improving communication between employees and eliminating turf wars is to set a tone of openness.

The dogfight manager

If you have ever uttered any of the following phrases as a manager, you're probably a dogfight manager.

  • “Why can't you be as good as he is?”

  • “You better get your act together or you will be looking for a job.”

  • “How can you let that guy beat you? You should be beating his numbers.”

A dogfight manager pits one employee's performance against another, and then sits back to watch the survival of the fittest. It's a turf war by mandate.

Managers should resist comparing employees. Everyone brings different skills to the team, and managers are there to coach and assist them to create the best team. Focus on the individual development of each of your staff members to help them become better at what they do and to grow in their skills and abilities. Instead of comparing the best and worst of your sales team, why not ask the best salesperson to be a mentor for the employee who needs the most development? Unless you have set the internal competition by compensation, the mentoring employee will appreciate the recognition, and your team will grow stronger.

Turf wars can cause so much disruption and drama in a company that everyone becomes more focused on the internal soap opera and less productive. Take a look around and identify your turf war causes, then correct them and watch your profits increase.

Known in speaking and consulting circles as “The Big Guy,” the author is president of Russell J. White International Inc., Lake Wylie, S.C. He is an author, trainer and international speaker with 25 years of experience as a Fortune 500 manager and consultant. White can be reached at (877) 275-9468. Visit his Web site at www.thinkBIGguy.com or e-mail him at [email protected].