It's important to recognise that you cannot safe-guard your team against conflict.
But it's also important to recognize that the things that cause conflict (e.g. a difference of opinion regarding an idea or process) can be the very same things that add value to a team as the diversity of opinions and work preferences can add up to a unique outcome.
This uniqueness, often representing a combination of ideas or a decision made on the basis of a robust discussion, can give teams the edge on their competitors.
The challenge for teams is therefore to recognize when conflicts are beginning to emerge and to address them as soon as possible so that they do not develop into the types of problems that impact upon team performance.
If at all possible, see if you can harness the conflict for the good of the team.
So you’ve set up your team, agreed rules, you’ve established clear aims, and are looking forward to getting on to the tasks that lie ahead.
This is going to be enjoyable and all that’s necessary for success is for everyone to stick to the plan, right?
Well maybe. If you’re lucky. But for most teams there will be obstacles along the way, differences of opinions and potentially hurt feelings.
So what do you need to do? What can you do?
- Monitor the team,
- run regular diagnostics,
- ask questions often,
and hopefully you can proactively ensure team dysfunction is minimised.
Questions to ask:
- Does everyone feel that they are being heard?
- Is everyone happy with the current team direction?
- Is everyone pulling their weight?
It’s useful here to return to the acknowledgement that we are all very different.
We bring to the team a myriad of different experiences and skills.
We’re all individuals with our own way of communicating and potentially competing priorities and commitments.
Ironically these differences - that make for incredibly successful teams - are also the things that can cause conflict.
It’s therefore useful to begin each team meeting with a diagnostic check that everyone is still on board for the journey.
If these sorts of questions are asked as part of each meeting they become a part of the team’s processes and are much less confrontational.
The 3rd question is confrontational but remember that what you’re trying to do is head off dysfunction and conflict and there is no easy way to do this.
Issues have to be identified before they can be solved.
Answering these questions honestly and openly establishes an air of trust within the team and this is essential.
More tricky to head off is inter-personal conflict that you can see coming.
Maybe there’s been a small flare-up, maybe you’ve noticed some disrespect or continued minor negative comments.
Whatever you’ve noticed you should try and call the situation early before it’s irreparable and/or has a negative effect on the team.
The easiest solution is if it involves you.
For example, ask for a coffee with the person and clearly state that you have felt, rightly or wrongly, that something you are doing might be upsetting the person.
Listen to what they have to say.
It might be that you’ve completely taken them by surprise or maybe you are giving them a chance to air their grievances.
In any case, you have a great opportunity to identify any issues and work together to move forward.
It’s definitely trickier if it’s two other people in your team.
You’ll need to read the situation and decide whether you take them both for coffee, whether you suggest they go for coffee and discuss the issue, or whether you raise it with the
whole team present.
So what am I saying?
I’m saying that you will need to be alert and to call out any problems as they arise. And then - respectfully - and if I haven’t emphasized this before, I need to do it now - you need to work out mutually agreeable strategies to get the team and its members around the potential problem or problems.