Whether we like it or not, conflict is an unavoidable and intrinsic part of teamwork. Team members will always disagree and that will often lead to conflict. The problem is in our tendency to see it as negative, as some dramatic impediment. The first step in managing conflict is accepting its inevitability and embracing the growth and development opportunities it offers.
What are the types of conflict?
There are two types of conflict in a work team. The first is interpersonal, involving the clash of two people over matters that don’t necessarily relate to the work. The second type is that which arises from differing viewpoints regarding tasks, objectives or methodologies. The two may coincide and both can be lethal to productivity and team cohesion if not addressed.
However, once the team accepts the conflict and its possibilities, dealing with either one of these types will become a lot easier.
How to Deal With the Different Conflict Types
In the case of interpersonal conflict, the most important action is to keep bringing the focus back to the goal. All the team should speak up and say, “Just remember what we’re doing here and why it’s important. This transcends personal grievances.” At the same time, the team leader or other objective team member can take the ‘warring’ parties aside and talk it through, negotiate some way in which a working relationship can be established. It’s not the leader’s job to get everybody to be friends, just to draw them together towards a common goal and make sure that it remains paramount.
When work-related conflict arises, there is a three-step process that teams can follow to bring everyone back together. It’s best to see this as an opportunity for new ideas and new methods to arise from differing points of view, not as a problem to be solved.
Never Ignore It
What is most lethal to teamwork is a tendency to ignore conflict in the hope that it will go away. So the first step is to acknowledge the disagreement and make sure that the entire team does the same. You might say: “Right guys. One half of the team thinks we need to increase our output, while the other half thinks we need to focus on unit quality. We are struggling to bring the two together and, as a result, both output and quality control are suffering. We need to find a solution.”
Talk It Out
Now discuss it. Get the team together and let everyone have their say, making sure that all viewpoints are respected. The third step is then to analyse the problem. A good method here is to break the team up into smaller groups, separating people who are in agreement. Bring people with conflicting viewpoints together in concentrated focus groups and have them closely analyse each other’s arguments. Once this process is complete, there may not necessarily be any resolution yet but you can at least start to plan a way forward – and at least your two factions are now communicating. If the only agreement you reach is that further analysis is needed, you have made progress. The important thing is to ensure that everyone’s eye is on the goal and not distracted by opinions on how to reach it.
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