Management Articles


6 Causes of Turf Wars

By: Russell J. White

Russell J. White an international speaker, author and consultant is president of Russell J. White International and founder of The Edgewalk Institute. His cutting edge ideas assist businesses in strategic planning, branding, leadership development and growth strategies. He can be reached at or at 877-275-9468.

As the landscape in this industry gets more and more competitive, turf wars crop up, oftentimes within organizations, and the disruption adds to the downward spiral of sales and profits. If you are experiencing turf wars in your company, identify which combination of the following six causes are the ones you need to immediately address.

1. Insecurity

When a person feels uncertain about his position, skill level or job security, his insecurity will have him create a turf war. The insecure manager or salesperson will be quick to blame others on his team for errors. This person will appear to have a "victim" mentality and always is the brunt of something that "just happened"! He will constantly be defensive about his decisions and be very protective of his turf not wanting any assistance or invasion (as he sees it) into his area of responsibility. Lastly, the insecure person will lash out, causing a tremendous distraction to your other employees who get sucked into his drama. The entire organization suffers as a result.

If you see a turf war developing around a person you identify as insecure, the best way to put it to rest is to take control of the situation. First of all, have a policy that "we are a team and we help everyone get better by sharing knowledge, information and assistance." As the manager creating this work environment of mutual assistance, you are telling everyone there are no sacred cows in your department; you are not interested in anyone trying to be the lead dog, because this is a team approach. If you are consistent in this expectation, the turf wars will be kept to a minimum. Also, have a sit down with this person to see what is going on in his life that may be causing this insecure reaction. Did his wife lose her job, and there is greater pressure on him at home to perform financially? Is he coasting? Has he given up because he no longer thinks he can compete? Coach this person through his insecurities and you will not only make a better employee and but also remove the catalyst for the turf war.

2. Changes in Leadership

Anytime there is a shuffle in leadership, employees revert to animal-based programming deep in their DNA and try to determine the new "alpha." The new leader will be bringing in unknown skills and expectations, and everyone wants to make a positive first step 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.

The trickiest step for any manager stepping into a new position is being assertive enough to establish alpha status without shutting down everyone in the process. It can be even more complicated if that new person is promoted from within the current employee staff. As the new leader, it is best to 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 that is going on. Speak to it head on.

3. Lack of Resources

In a downsizing environment, there is a scarcity mentality that will cause people to feel threatened. That threat makes them protective of what they perceive as theirs, in other words - they start guarding their turf. A scarcity mentality breeds protectionism and causes people to play not to lose instead of playing to win. Salesmen focus on holding on to what they have instead of exploring new opportunities, which only perpetuates limited resources. The lack of resources also ill-prepares and ill-equips the staff for creating additional resources. If training is reduced or eliminated or the sales staff isn't continuously upgraded with technology to be competitive with the competition, panic will set in and cause the insecurity previously mentioned.

As a friend told me, there is a difference between being poor and being broke. The difference is attitude. Poor is a perception this situation will not change so actions need to be taken to survive. Broke is an attitude that believes lack of resources is a temporary condition that will be gone shortly 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 your left leg a good way to lose weight, so why do that in your business?

4. Internal Competition

In this country we love our sports. We use 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 that we believe drives athletes to greater heights. The flaw with this logic, as any coach or team manager will tell you, is that internal competition among the players can cause the team to suffer at the expense of star attention. The competition is outside of the organization in a global playing field; internal strife only gives the opposition opportunity to get ahead. Internal competition among sales staff will cause people to lose at the expense of their teammates. Sabotage, misinformation, and lack of assistance will result in turf wars, and the biggest loser in this scenario is the company.

If you want to create an internal competition, it should be based on self-improvement. Have people compete against their own individual goals, as opposed to others in the sales force. With this type of competition there can be more than one winner. If the team gels like the executive can only hope, they will assist each other so the entire team achieves their personal goals. Everyone wins, especially the company, provided they set the goals correctly.

5. Poor Communication

One would think with the advances in communication technology we would have eliminated communication problems, yet they continue to be the biggest cause of problems, profit loss and turf wars in business. Poor communication can be the withholding of information, incomplete information or inaccurate information. Some poor communications are unintentional and some are intended. "Knowledge is Power" can be misunderstood by those fighting a turf war; withholding information makes that person feel more valuable if he is the one with the answers at the expense of other employees and the company.

The new model for business is the Fish Bowl model, with clarity for everyone and no hidden information; everything can be seen and is out in the open. The Internet is driving out privacy with the wealth of information at our fingertips, both personal and professional, and the quicker companies get on that model, the quicker information can be shared and the better communications can happen. The 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 the tone of openness.

6. The Dogfight Manager

When I first came out of college as a manager trainee in textiles, I learned of an organization that hired many college graduates and literally had them standing along the walls of the plant waiting on another shift supervisor to screw up and lose his job, creating the opening for the new hire. The pressure was insane and the revolving door and burnout of supervisors was the ultimate result of this type of turf war. If you are a manager who has ever uttered the words, "Why can't you be as good as he is?" or "You better get your act together or you will be looking for a job" or "How can you let that guy beat you? You should be beating his numbers all day long," then you are a dogfight manager. A dogfight manager enjoys pitting one employee's performance against another and then sits back for the survival of the fittest. It's a turf war by mandate, and no one enjoys working under those pressures.

As the manager resist the comparison of employees. Everyone brings different skills to the team, and you are there to coach and assist them to create the best team. Focus on the individual development of each of your staff to make them 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 use the best as a mentor for the employee that 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. Identify them, correct them and watch your profits increase.

© Copyright 2007, Russell J. White

The author assumes full responsibility for the contents of this article and retains all of its property rights. ManagerWise publishes it here with the permission of the author. ManagerWise assumes no responsibility for the article's contents.


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