The conflicts that often arise in teams can make you want to throw up your arms in despair, retreat to your office, and live out your career in solitude. But collaboration is required in most workplaces and, while it isn’t easy, there are steps you can take today to improve the relationships within your team and yield better team results. If your team has dissolved into arguments or two members just can’t seem to get along, how can you get things back on track? How you do you turn a team ruined by dysfunction into one that excels together?
What the Experts Say
Conflict is part of working on a team and, while it’s often uncomfortable, it can also be healthy. There will and even should be conflict in a group with a task that has even a minimum of complexity. Understanding why teams fight, how and when to get involved, and how to prevent fights in the future is a critical skill for all team leaders.
Stop Disputes Before They Happen
Unfortunately, most team leaders assume they’ll deal with disagreements as they come up. But Brett advises doing more prep work than that — to have solid conflict management procedures in place to deal with [conflicts] when they arise, because they will arise. These rules will also help you work through issues more quickly. Solving disputes after they happen is a lot more work.
Another important proactive measure is ensuring that your team shares the same purpose, values, and identity. Teams should devote a certain amount of time to talking about the team itself. In these discussions, instead of focusing on easier, more concrete issues like goals and measurement, get the group to agree on its purpose first. Do this when the team forms, and throughout its existence.
How and When to Intervene
Some of the most common disputes include conflicts over tasks, working norms, or process. Regardless of why your team is fighting, following a few simple guidelines can help you resolve disputes quickly.
Intervene early. When two or more team members are engaged in a conflict, the sooner you step in the better. Once the dispute starts, emotions can run high, making it harder to diffuse the situation. Letting conflicts fester can result in hurt feelings and lasting resentment. A simple disagreement can turn into a serious conflict in milliseconds, so it’s critical for team managers to be aware of the team dynamics and sense when a disagreement is percolating.
Focus on team norms. The best approach to resolving disputes once they’ve erupted is to refer back to something the team can, or has already, agreed on. These may be explicit or implicit team norms. If you haven’t previously discussed norms as a team, now is a good time to hold the conversation. Be careful not to frame the discussion around the dispute but to focus it on setting rules of engagement for going forward.
Identify a shared agreement. Your job as the team leader is to help the fighting team members reach an accord. The key is to respect each party and the reason behind their point of view and the only way to do this is to talk it through. Most team leaders cut short dialogue or don’t do it in an inclusive way. Once the cards are on the table, you need to facilitate an outcome that takes into account both parties point of views. Compromise often has a bad connotation in the business world, but the resolution doesn’t need to be a lowest common denominator answer. Rather, it should integrate both parties’ interests. Whenever possible, connect the resolution back to shared purposes, values, or identity that can help both parties see eye to eye.
Moving On After a Disagreement
The best way to heal war wounds is to start working again. Get a relatively easy task in front of the group to help them rebuild their confidence as a team. As the leader, you can model moving on and focusing on work. If people have been ostracized because of the dispute, make efforts to bring them back into the fold by assigning them an important task or soliciting their opinions. If feelings have been hurt, you may want to let the parties have a break and not directly work together for a short time. Going forward, it will be useful to establish a practice of regularly checking on how you all are working together. This will help you identify problems before they turn into full-fledged disputes.
Take them on an adventure
Epic Adventures offers a variety of team building programs and activities designed to target problem areas in your team functioning and leverage the strengths of the group to form a high-performing team. Having fun together and achieving a challenging goal as a group at one of EPIC’s programs will yield demonstrable results. Give it a shot. Call us at 1-855-5BE-EPIC.
Principles to Remember
Set up conflict management procedures before a conflict arises
Intervene early when a fight erupts between team members
Get the team working together again as soon as possible
Schedule an EPIC Adventure
Assume your team agrees on its shared purpose, values, or vision
Let conflicts fester or go unattended
Move on without first talking about the conflict as a team