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Team Conflict and the Work Process

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  • 0:05 Conflict in Teams
  • 1:08 Where Conflict Comes From
  • 3:07 People Conflict
  • 5:04 Task Conflict
  • 7:16 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sherri Hartzell

Sherri has taught college business and communication courses. She also holds three degrees including communications, business, educational leadership/technology.

Conflict is inevitable in groups, which is why managers must understand it. In this lesson you will learn about the reasons why teams may encounter conflict while working together.

Conflict in Teams

Conflict is one of those words that can stir up a good deal of emotion; we hear 'conflict' and immediately think about disagreement. Perhaps that is why most people try to avoid it. However, not all disagreement is bad, especially in a group or team setting.

Conflict in a group tends to signify a variety of opinions, insights and ideas, which almost always leads to better decision making in the long run. In fact, a major advantage a team has over an individual is its diversity of resources, knowledge and ideas. A group where everyone agrees with one another, shares the same resources or knows the same information has little to discuss and thus little to contribute.

Conflict can be a good indicator of the success of a team; however, before conflict can be used as a tool for effective decision making, it must first be understood. This lesson will discuss the various reasons why teams may encounter conflict while working together.

Where Conflict Comes From

Conflict occurs in groups due to differences, especially in close quarters such as workplaces. Because no two people are the same, these differences will surface over time and cause conflict.

The reason our differences cause conflicts is because of how we view the world and how we interpret the behavior of others. Each individual team member will hold their own unique perceptual set of beliefs, values and attitudes about the world around them. They walk around interpreting everything they see or hear through this perceptual set, and when two people's perceptual sets do not match (and they often don't), conflict happens.

For example, let's say Marco, who is a very sociable and open person, is working with Peter on a project for work. Marco quickly shares his ideas on what he thinks is the best action to take, but Peter is quiet and provides very little input during the brainstorming session; if anything, he disagrees with Marco's ideas. Marco, being someone who is very sociable, might interpret Peter's lack of participation as Peter's displeasure with having to work with Marco. Now that Marco believes that Peter does not like him, Marco decides that he does not like Peter and thus, conflict occurs.

Of course there are a million reasons other than Peter not liking Marco that could have caused Peter's lack of input during the brainstorming session. Unfortunately, Marco did not ask Peter directly and thus had to rely on his own perception of Peter's behavior to make sense of it. This is something that we are all guilty of and whether right or wrong, we rely heavily on our perceptions to interpret the behaviors of others. Therefore, it is the meaning that we give the perception of differences that causes conflict, not the differences themselves. The trick to fostering effective conflict in teams is being aware of our perceptions and learning to appreciate our differences.

People Conflict

Conflict can arise from numerous sources within a team setting and generally falls into two categories: people-centered or task-centered. People conflict, sometimes referred to as relationship conflict, involves interpersonal conflict between the people of a group. People conflict occurs when two people disagree with one another and make it personal.

As I mentioned earlier, when two people disagree, it can lead to greater decision making by fostering debate and allowing all issues and solutions to be fully examined. When two people quickly agree with one another, these issues and solutions can be easily overlooked. However, in order for that disagreement to be a productive conflict, the two parties must remain focused on the issue about which they disagree. Once the individuals themselves become the center of the conflict and not the issues, people conflict occurs.

The example of Marco and Peter demonstrates when conflict is people-centered, or interpersonal, in nature. People conflict is basically a clash of personalities. Because people conflict is so emotionally charged, it can be extremely difficult to manage and thus very harmful to the group. When team members experience people conflict, there may be a lack of cooperation or teamwork, a lack of adequate communication between members and unprofessional behavior that can directly affect the entire group.

One major cause for people conflict is the perceived inequality among team members or when one member is treated unfairly. The group's leader must take immediate action whenever people conflict occurs to minimize its negative effects on the team. This would involve making sure that everyone has equal access to information and resources they need to carry out their group's task, reminding the group of their purpose, promoting group cohesion, encouraging teamwork and fostering a professional work environment.

Task Conflict

The second type of conflict that occurs in groups is task-centered. Task-centered conflict is just that, conflict that is focused around the task at hand and involves disagreements among the group members about group goals and the tasks being performed.

Because we all have our own view of the world, we also have our own opinions, views and ideas about the group's goals, what solutions might work and how group tasks should be completed. For example, let's say Marco believed that the best course of action on the project was to increase the amount of advertisements being made in a specific region, whereas Peter felt that a new branding campaign would better solve the problem they were working on. Marco and Peter are experiencing task conflict over what the best course of action to take on the project is.

Task-conflict can be beneficial to the group when they need to determine the best way to accomplish their goal. Perhaps a group member, even two, has prior experience with the issue the group is working on and has first-hand knowledge on the best way to solve the issue.

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