Dealing with the inevitable – team conflicts

Dec 17, 2014


It’s inevitable in any organisation. You can pretend it’s not happening. You can nag, cry, and rant all about it. Blame it on someone else, or try to deal with it through subtle hints and suggestions; or you can be direct, clarify what is going on, and attempt to reach a solution through negotiation or compromise.

What is it? It’s conflict. As long as people have different viewpoints, opinions, backgrounds, belief systems etc. there will be conflict. However, conflict doesn’t always have to be negative. It can be destructive, or it can be healthy and productive. How it’s handled is the key. In this week’s blog and part 1 of our conflict management series, we introduce you briefly to team conflicts and the integral role a manager plays in how they are navigated. How a manager leads and helps the team to manage the conflict can change a negative to a positive. Sometimes conflict can force teams and managers to look at themselves or issues in a new way, producing solutions and results far better than originally anticipated.

 When conflict is channelled positively the results can produce:

  • Alternatives not yet considered
  • Better solutions
  • A focused and productive team
  • Increased ability to deal with conflict

Managers should not ignore underlying tensions that are developing in their teams. It’s important that managers have regular informal one-to-one conversations and catch-ups with the people they manage so that these kinds of issues can be resolved naturally where possible. According to CIPD’s 2007 Managing Conflict at Work survey report, most organisations devote more than 350 days in management time a year in managing disciplinary and grievance cases. In many cases employees will simply vote with their feet and leave organisations if conflict is not managed effectively.

Counter-productive conflict can result in:

  • Employee Dissatisfaction
  • Reduced productivity
  • Poor service to clients
  • Absenteeism and increased employee turnover
  • Increased work-related stress
  • Or worse-case scenario, litigation based on claims of harassment or a hostile work environment

Knowing these negative outcomes of conflicts that aren’t handled properly, it is clear that proper resolution of conflicts is a concern for managers and organisations alike.

Here are few reasons why team conflicts occur:

  • Poor or no communication
  • Lack of problem solving skills
  • Lack of clarity in purpose, goals, objectives, team and individual roles
  • Poor time management
  • Lack of leadership and management
  • Personality Conflicts

Signs there is a team conflict (while not necessarily on their own indicate conflict, when multiple symptoms appear it is a sign to investigate further):

  • Work isn’t completed on time or at the quality required
  • Passive/Aggressive behaviour of team members
  • Hostility
  • Gossip
  • Not responding to requests for information
  • Complaining
  • Hoarding information that should be shared
  • Filing grievances or lawsuits
  • Verbal Abuse

This week’s manager’s tips for dealing with team conflicts:

  • Act as a role model. Managers must set an example by being seen to follow the organisation’s policies and procedures. If managers don’t comply with company policy on, for example, reporting absence, then it is difficult to expect employees to do the same.
  • Acknowledge when a difficult situation exists. Honesty and clear communication play an important role in the resolution process. Acquaint yourself with what’s happening and be open about the problem.
  • Acknowledge when a team member is causing stress to others. It only takes one person to cause disharmony within a team as a result of their negative behaviour or poor performance. Examples of behaviour and performance that can create stress at work include being overly critical, making personal remarks or having a short temper. Managers must be prepared to step in and talk to the individual as soon as it becomes obvious they are creating problems. In many cases they may be unaware of how they or their behaviour is perceived by others and will respond quickly to a quiet word.
  • Define the problem. What is the stated problem? What is the negative impact on the work or relationships? Are differing personality styles parts of the problem? Meet with employees separately at first and question them about the situation.

How do you handle conflicts in your organisation and teams? Do you have any tips for resolving them? In our next blog and part 2 of our conflict management series, we will talk about conflict management styles and how to use them for different situations in your organisation

By: Curran Daly + Associates


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