Team Conflict

team conflictDoes your team engage in conflict?  If so is it constructive or destructive?  Too often teams avoid conflict because they fear it will become destructive and lead to personal attacks.  Conflict that becomes personal can destroy the trust within the team.  So is all conflict within team bad?  No, it’s actually vital for the development of high performing teams.

So how do you get a team on board with conflict?  First you must ensure that there is real trust within the team.  If people do not believe that their teammates have their best interests at heart then conflict can be seen as personal not business.  This will not work.

Once you have trust established it is up to the team leader to encourage and elicit constructive conflict during team meetings.  Constructive conflict is the open exchange of differing ideas and opinions.  It is about sharing perspective and experiences with people who have other ideas.  The team leader must encourage the healthy exchange of ideas.  This is how you get to the best solutions and ideas for solving problems.  In addition the team leader will have to help guide the team to resolution so that they can move forward.  This means overcoming the obstacles to conflict resolution.

Obstacles to Conflict Resolution:

  • Facts, Opinions, and Perspectives (Informational)
  • Company Culture, Politics, and Moods (Environmental)
  • Legacy Events, Reputation, and Position (Relationship)
  • Experience, Knowledge, and Self-Esteem (Individual)

The biggest challenge for the team leader is identifying the various obstacles that are inhibiting resolution of the conflict.  Each team member may be in a different place, so finding the right path to getting agreement on a solution can be a rough road.  When there is high level of trust within the team it will be easier to find the causes of the roadblocks.

When there is a solution on the table that is being resisted here are several questions you can ask to get past the objections and onto resolution.

  1. What would it take to make this work for you?
  2. Where have you seen this fail before?  What were the circumstances in that case?
  3. What additional information do you need to become comfortable with this?
  4. How might this fail?  How can we overcome those issues?

The key to productive conflict is an environment where opinions and perspectives are valued and sought.  This allows each person to express their thoughts openly and without fear of repercussions.  This allows the conflict to generate ideas and options.  To get to a single solution to implement it is imperative that the conflict is effectively resolved.  That requires overcoming the obstacles and objections that surface.  Acknowledge the concerns and seek team solutions to address them.  This will help each member feel valued and supported.  This leads to commitment to the decision made.

Conflict is a valuable tool during team meetings.  It allows other ideas and options to be identified and evaluated.  Keep conflict constructive and your team is on the way to high performance results.

For more information on this topic see Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.  This is addressed as his second dysfunction – fear of conflict.


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