When people work together there will be disagreements and some degree of conflict is inevitable. Healthy teams are not conflict-free; they are distinguished by their ability to manage disagreement in a mature and ‘adult’ way. People vary in the abilities to do this, and learning how to do it can be a painful process. Though it often falls to managers to manage differences between team members, many managers say they feel under-equipped in this area as they have never been trained to manage conflict.
About my approach with team conflict
Team conflict is costly, demoralising and damaging to performance. To function optimally, a team or group must have agreed standards of behaviour and mechanisms for managing disagreement respectfully and constructively.
These should be put in place through discussion and agreement when the team is formed. Unfortunately, this rarely done, and when team discord results it’s often a case of no action, or a panic reaction by management as the team breaks down.
When rules and norms are not in place the stresses that inevitably arise when people work together can get out of control and even escalate to cause serious team conflict. Such rules include agreed standards of respectful behaviour, as well as effective mechanisms to ‘nip in the bud’ any disputes which individuals are unable to settle themselves.
- When I intervene in a team conflict the aim is to enable them to interact more productively together. My role is not to provide solutions to a group’s difficulties or problems. I am there to facilitate them doing this for themselves.
- I do this by creating a space where they can find out how to do this.
- I assume that people already know how to do this, they just haven’t yet.
- The aim is not to eradicate difference or even conflict. Both are important for organisations and groups to thrive.
- The aim is to enable the group to accept, value and work with their differences.
- We work for understanding, rather than agreement.
- Our education and socialisation persuades us to think in such a way that conflict is inevitable
- This means that we cannot not be in conflict unless we take steps to avoid it
- Most of us do this a dozen times a day – successfully
- These events go unnoticed because they go off smoothly
- We notice the occasional ones that don’t – some of these result in conflict
- Conflict persuades us that ‘difference’ is significant
- We then start looking at ‘difference’ and for evidence to support our view that difference is significant
- The ‘problem’ if there is one, is actually about how we are thinking when we are in disagreement, but we tend to think the problem is what we and others are thinking
- We take positions which confirm and amplify our differences.
- Organisational structure is such that it may unwittingly generate tensions and promote interpersonal conflict
- Most people have to work within dysfunctional systems, and do the best they can
- Conflict therefore arises or is maintained because of systemic tensions
- Despite this, most of us get a long, most of the time.
The time to do team building is when the team is formed, yet people usually call me when the team has started to break down. Better late than never! A group of people can readily learn the approaches I use and quickly start to function like a real team.
See also Team tools