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Strategies for Managing Work Conflict as a Team

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  • 0:04 Background Example of Conflict
  • 0:41 Promoting Healthy Conflict
  • 3:39 Finding a Healthy Resolution
  • 6:18 Moving Past the Conflict
  • 7:00 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amy Townson

Amy has done extensive training for both private and government agencies and has a master's degree in industrial/organizational psychology.

Teams are everywhere, in our personal lives and in the business world. All teams experience conflict, but that conflict doesn't have to have a negative impact on the work the team is doing. This lesson explores ways to encourage healthy conflict within a team while also addressing and resolving conflict.

Background Example of Conflict

Jim has been brought on to lead a group to victory at the upcoming Battle of the Bands. Like everyone, Jim and the band members want to be part of a 'winning team,' but how does a team become a 'winning team'? How can Jim turn the band members into a well-oiled team without having internal fights and conflicts?

Any two people will eventually face conflict, so avoidance is virtually impossible. Jim's challenge as a leader is two-fold. First, he needs to foster healthy conflicts that allow the team to grow and perform more effectively. Second, he needs to guide the team towards a healthy resolution when conflicts do occur.

Promoting Healthy Conflict

The band already has a string of albums playing in elevators throughout the city, so Jim can certainly work to minimize conflict of any kind within the band and to maintain their current success. But this won't improve their chances of winning the Battle of the Bands. To do this, the group needs healthy conflicts.

Healthy conflicts build the team and help team members grow. Many of the best innovations and the most comprehensive solutions come about because of healthy conflict when individuals disagree on the basic issues of a work task. For example, Nina is pushing for the band to build upon their bluegrass roots for the battle while Barbara thinks they would be better served playing hard rock songs. To promote this healthy conflict, leaders like Jim have several tools at their disposal: focusing on work tasks, modeling behaviors, encouraging communication, building trust, and starting the team on a positive note.

Jim finds it easier to continue progress than to shift direction, so he capitalizes on the band's current success in elevator music sales to set the precedent for the Battle of the Bands. Starting the team off on a positive note through quick wins, early successes, and positive feedback sets the climate for the group to move forward. Leaders can also build in time for team members to develop interpersonal relationships within the group as a way to build trust and rapport. Because Jim has set the stage for healthy conflict, Nina and Barbara can hash through their differences during a jam session.

Like Nina and Barbara, team members bring their own unique perspective and expertise to the group. Leaders should encourage team members to share their viewpoints and thoughts. By encouraging communication, leaders build the foundation for healthy conflict. Active listening during the communication process can demonstrate to team members that their perspective is valued and also allows opportunities for new ideas to be introduced. Since Jim has encouraged and respected feedback so far, Bob feels free to point out that last year's winner came to the battle with a cutting edge approach to its music and suggests a compromise - country metal.

As the band practices their country metal music, Jim needs to ensure that their interactions focus on performance or the work content. All team members should understand how specific tasks are assigned to avoid misunderstandings that can lead to unhealthy conflict. When possible, assignments should be based on a team member's skill set and expertise, rather than willingness or availability. By choosing the best team member for a given job, rather than the most convenient, leaders can continue to promote healthy conflict.

Team members will act the way they see their colleagues, and especially their leader, acting. Leaders that gossip, spread rumors, play favorites, or pass down haphazard work tend to have teams that do the same. On the other hand, leaders who model positive behaviors - encouraging diverse ideas, maintaining open communications, and respecting the team - are more likely to have team members who do these things as well.

Armed with this healthy conflict, Mohawk hair, totally metal face paint, and cowboy boots, the team seems ready for the Battle of the Bands.

Finding a Healthy Resolution

The worst has happened: the band members can't agree on an opening song. Even the best teams sometimes experience unhealthy conflict or cannot work through healthy conflict without assistance. Fortunately, there are strategies that leaders like Jim can use to resolve the conflicts. By identifying and acknowledging the conflict, focusing on the problems, and facilitating a resolution, leaders can handle the conflict and minimize problems within the workplace.

Healthy resolutions to conflict are those which grow and strengthen the team. The solutions are fair and all team members feel that they are benefitting from the resolution in some way. The first step is to acknowledge the conflict; the team cannot work through conflict that is ignored. More importantly, the team needs to recognize the issue itself and communicate what impact the conflict has had on the team. Is everyone talking about the same thing?

Jim needs to ensure that everyone has a solid, thorough, and shared understanding of the issues. Bob agrees that the current opening song is a strong song, but thinks it is too slow for a show opener. Nina argues for her song to open because she wants to have time for a special dedication during the introductory riffs. What are the real issues?

Team members need to understand each side's perspective. What expertise does a teammate bring to the table that may influence the conflict resolution? Are team members bringing the same assumptions and biases to the conflict? In order to resolve the conflict, the team needs to know exactly what is going on and the many sides to the issue.

Once the team understands the issues, they can focus on these to resolve the conflict. How does the problem impact the work that the team is to be performing? If their goal is to win the Battle of the Bands, where does the song really fit within their playlist? What song should they open with? What solutions will maintain their effectiveness and achieve their performance expectations?

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