During the demerger of the Cadbury Schweppes confectionery and beverage divisions, the two Information Technology leaders became defiant about how to fairly divide up the top talent. Indications of tension were evident during meetings but it was left unchecked. It became personal. Each felt the other was being close-minded and this broke any trust they might have shared.
The project leader and other senior team members eventually tried to arbitrate between them, but their positions were far apart and relations remained strained. Each step forward was scrutinized for advantage and an air of suspicion pervaded meetings. Decisions were eventually made after long negotiations filled with drama and stress.
Beyond slowing down the demerger process, the tensions between these leaders trickled down to their teams. Some in middle management felt they had permission to be confrontational given the relationship they observed by their leaders. Negative behaviour is just as powerful as positive behaviour in guiding culture, and if not managed carefully positive environments for change often turn sour.