Coaching Challenge: Turf Wars

The average professional in corporate America spends at least 45 hours a week at work, often more. That’s a huge chunk of waking time to be “living” at the office.

It’s no surprise to see office walls and shelves brimming with personal artifacts: an award from an industry association, knick-knacks from last year’s conference, and pictures—from rafting the Colorado to a snap of the family gerbil. All are attempts to add a personal touch, to make the space familiar and comforting.

Where is my turf?
Our personal domains extend beyond the space we inhabit. At work, they include our ideas, the projects we run, the responsibilities we shoulder. And we can become very proprietary about these things. Wherever we may perceive a threat to our turf —whether an office move or a new person on the team—our protective hackles can go up very quickly.

A case in point
Coaching can be particularly helpful to senior managers whose default decision-making style may have become autocratic. Back in the early ’90s, the CEO of a celebrated ad agency responded to the cubicle culture by re-designing his California offices in a “loungy- like Starbucks” style, according to a manager who was there at the time.

Employees were told to keep their personal belongings in lockers overnight, and check out the equipment they needed every morning. They no longer had their own work spaces.

The boss saw the change as innovative and future-oriented, but in this new community no one had his own turf. A mini-rebellion ensued, and many people opted to work at home. The company was subsequently acquired, and employees once again got their own work spaces.

What might have been
How might coaching have helped this CEO avoid this design flaw and the staff disengagement that resulted from his top-down decision? Coaching might have offered the CEO an opportunity to explore ways to build support and engagement, to seek input from stakeholders, to anticipate and prepare for resistance, and to facilitate the communication that would build engagement.

This exploration might have revealed to the CEO that his people had a definite interest in shared spaces for brainstorming and relaxation, but also placed a high value on inhabiting their own spaces, designed with their personal effects.

Authority can be turf, too
Our autocratic CEO might have even decided to delegate the office redesign project to one of his lieutenants. Coaching might have helped him identify his own autocracy as a form of turf. In this case, he might have discovered the benefits of delegating his authority and letting go of his turf.

By sharing what was solely his domain, he could have lightened his load, made the process itself more communal, and enriched the workplace—just like the loungy office space he envisioned.

Have you ever impacted your people’s turf? How has change impacted your professional turf? What helped you deal with it?

If you found this post helpful, checkout “About the Book” on this blog and order yourself a copy of “What could happen if you do nothing?” A manager’s handbook for coaching conversations.