How to Resolve Team Conflict

Photo by Cherrydeck on Unsplash

Team and personnel conflicts can have severe repercussions for a business including loss of focus, missed deadlines and business goals, poor coordination and efficiency, unsatisfied customers/clients and a lack of employee engagement.

In this article I’m going to cover a process you can use again and again to help manage conflict in your team.

“Conflicts can destroy teams that haven’t spent time learning how to deal with them smartly.”

- Thomas Isgar

Reports indicate that nearly 60% of employees don’t receive basic conflict management training for conflict resolution within the workplace. And out of the remaining 40% that did, nearly 95% of them reported the training sessions helped them tackle the conflicts only positively and look for mutually beneficial outcomes.

Conflicts are undoubtedly a natural part of life, especially in workplaces. While managing a group of people with different interests, agendas, and needs, you may find yourself in the midst of two or more team members disagreeing.

Some team conflict is healthy, it can help push people’s thinking, relieve tension and keep balance in the team. It must be professional and contain an underlying respect though, otherwise chaos can ensue.

In a chaotic environment you will find team members not communicating or listening to each other’s ideas, low employee morale and a tense, uncomfortable workplace where trust is lacking. This ultimately leads to poor performance, a lack of productivity, and the inability to achieve business goals.

A few main reasons for workplace conflict include:

  • unfair treatment / a lack of equal opportunities
  • poor communication
  • poor management
  • unclear job roles
  • clashing personalities

Following are 4 simple steps you can follow to resolve conflicts within the workplace smartly.

  1. Acknowledge the Conflict

The first step in dealing with conflict is to acknowledge it’s there.

When conflict occurs most people’s natural reaction is to pretend nothing has happened. Generally people want to keep peace so they keep their frustrations to themselves or worse yet start bad-mouthing colleagues behind their backs.

If left unresolved, as time passes, it will only get worse, hence it’s important for team members to face the circumstance head-on and acknowledge the conflict.

The best way to do this is to have everyone involved in the conflict meet, ideally face-to-face, to discuss the issue. The employee responsible for conflict resolution should set the ground rules — this is a safe environment for each person to acknowledge the conflict and express their point of view / frustration openly and honestly. Encourage active listening and ask each person to think about being in the other’s shoes. It’s important, also, to be clear about the objective — you are here to work to a resolution for the good of the team. You don’t have to ‘like’ everyone you work with, but you need to respect that they’re part of the team and find a way of working together.

What if the team members involved in the conflict aren’t communicating at all? In that case, the employee responsible for conflict resolution should approach each team member separately, understand the situation and encourage a meeting with everyone involved in the conflict. If they continue to refuse after a few days you may need to involve Human Resources, but in my experience this is rare.

2. Understand the Situation

Agreeing to discuss the situation openly and honestly is one major step toward resolving the conflict. During the meeting the person responsible for conflict resolution should mediate. Throughout the meeting, ask the team members to provide their opinions. Let them describe how they feel about the situation. Make sure everyone’s being heard carefully and ask for clarifying questions related to the conflict. The five whys is a good way to get to the heart of an issue.

Many times when you dig that bit deeper you find common ground. Finding common ground immediately changes the circumstance, no longer are the parties just at odds, there is something they agree on. Keep digging and you’ll likely find there are more areas they have in common as they naturally let their guard down and become more open to listening to each other.

Bear in mind they won’t agree on everything (and that certainly shouldn’t be the objective!), it’s about a common understanding and building a respect for each other and the role they play in the team.

3. Reach an Agreement

Now that everyone has heard every single team member’s opinion and hopefully you’ve found common ground, it’s time to discuss and decide the course of action the team needs to take.

To resolve the conflict, it’s important to reach an agreement. Listing out all the positives and negatives of conflict in the work environment is a good way to help employees understand how ongoing conflict is affecting their work and working environment.

As mentioned above, conflict isn’t necessarily a bad thing, so it’s important everyone understands it’s not about everything being rosey all the time. You want to facilitate a team that is open, honest and respectful. If I disagree with you I am able to tell you in a constructive way. In reaching an agreement on how this will be achieved, it’s imperative everyone is involved. The team members need to put in effort and provide solutions.

If further evaluation and analysis are required, make sure that you are giving everyone the time to do so. Plan to reach an agreement within a fixed timescale.

4. Monitor the Situation

Lastly, it’s important to make sure the situation is monitored closely. A team meeting every month specifically focused on conflict is a good way to keep the team communicating and prevent pent up frustration. Asking each member to come to the meeting with an example of conflict and how it was handled, or what it led to, not only keeps each team member accountable but also reinforces that conflict can be healthy and it’s not something to shy away from.

Monitoring the team and it’s conflict, particularly keeping notes of who and what, if there is an on-going negative conflict between two or more people, helps you to identify if there is a particular person or situation that is causing issues. There are going to be circumstances, even if few and far between, where there is simply a toxic individual in the team. This type of situation needs to be handled very differently.

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If you want to learn more about conflict resolution or team management as a whole, consider reading 60 Minutes to a Manager’s Mindset, or get in touch.

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