How to Manage Team Conflict: 4 Types of Conflict All Managers Must Address
Management’s objective is not to resolve conflict, it is to overcome it.
Conflict is an uncomfortable aspect of any relationship, especially when it exists among members of your team. As a manager, you have the responsibility to not only address the issues as they come up, but also to establish a culture that prevents them from occurring in the first place. Doing this requires an emotional awareness of relationships among team members, between you and your employees, and your employees and other departments. Your ability to manage conflict successfully is directly linked to your team’s ability to achieve business results. That makes it worth your time to learn how to do it right.
Managing Conflict is not easy, though many mangers take an easy approach. They say things like:
- “You are all professionals, learn to work together.”
- “Go work it out and come to me with a solution.”
- Or even worse, they modify roles and responsibilities because of it.
Each of these approaches may work to resolve conflict from time to time, but that is not enough. Management’s objective is not to resolve conflict, but to overcome it. To do this, you need to learn how to manage conflict differently.
First Step is to identify and understand what types of conflict to look out for.
Second Step is to develop the tools to refocus your team, and/or individuals to move beyond conflict.
Third Step is to be proactive at implementing conflict management into your overall management routine.
There are 4 Types of Conflict That All Managers Must be Able to Address:
- Conflict Avoidance
- Conflict of Opinion
- Conflict of Interest
- Conflict of Intent
Identify & Understand: The worst form of team conflict is not when people argue over different points of view, instead, it exists when individuals silently and unknowingly sabotage the effectiveness of the team by avoiding conflict all together. Either they don’t believe team members will accept their ideas, they feel intimidated by stronger personalities on the team, or they are simply too shy to speak up. A good manager has the ability to notice silent conflict by effectively and actively communicating with team members, being emotionally aware, developing trust as a leader and setting clear objectives for their team.
Refocus Your Team: Listen to your employees; ask their opinions, privately, as well as when they are together as a team. If you notice different ideas when an employee speaks one-on-one with you vs. when they are with the team, it may be because they are avoiding conflict.
One approach you can use to build your employee’s confidence is sharing their opinions with the group as if they were your own; asking for feedback & vetting the concept. You can teach your employee how to build consensus, as well as show their opinion is valued, bringing positive impact to results.
Be Proactive: By setting clear objectives and establishing roles for your team, you can ensure people are working together even when some would otherwise avoid it. A great way to establish collaboration is to break objectives out and assign a leader to each; the rest of the team works for that leader given the specific objective. The catch is that leaders for one objective are followers for others. This tactic will foster team collaboration because everyone will want the others to help him or her achieve the objective they are leading.
Conflict of Opinion
Identify & Understand: People can be vocal about their ideas, but not everyone is skilled in presenting them within a constructive framework. Instead, they put up a verbal stance, tune out the input of others and cause a lot of conflict…aka…wasted time. The fast way to handle this is to pick sides; a better way to handle it is to facilitate a discussion based on ideas.
Refocus Your Team: Talk separately with each of your employees involved in the conflict. Let them state their case so you can educate yourself, but do not agree with either of them. Instead, explain to each one that you value both of their opinions and expect them to develop a hybrid approach to the situation currently at odds. Not on their own, but in front of you (if you are not all in the same location you can do it over the phone..but you need to be there). Get them together and sit back, let them work it out productively. Your feedback should focus only on the hybrid approach, asking probing questions and most importantly showing them what management is all about…improving the dynamic in their relationship, not choosing sides. In the future they will be more open to working together to find solutions because they know what to expect from you.
Be Proactive: Encourage your team to present multiple points of view on topics during your regular team meetings. Facilitate a dialog to merge those ideas, building off of good aspects and developing a hybrid approach. By facilitating this discussion for them, you will teach them how to do it on their own while building a collaborative team culture.
Conflict of Interest
Identify & Understand: This can be a big roadblock for your team, especially when it relates to the interests of your department verses others. You can have the most efficient group, but if they start hitting roadblocks when they need something from other parts of your organization, your efforts can come to a halt. Priorities are not always the same, timelines may differ, and directives may contradict your own. When this is the case you need to take the lead to create bridges between your team and others to ensure momentum is not curtailed.
Refocus Your Team: Educate yourself and your team on the objectives and process flows that take place before and after your own business process occurs. Do this by talking with people, not making assumptions. Work cross-functionally with other mangers to outline the workflow, uncover potential conflicts and develop consensual solutions.
Be Proactive: Establish key contacts within your team and other department teams to maintain the bridges you created, solve problems that arise and log a list issues that come up repeatedly. You can use this list to formulate action items designed to continuously improve workflows and better align cross-functional objectives.
Conflict of Intent
Identify & Understand: Sometimes conflict exists between coworkers because they have a different understanding of what is expected of them, the priorities within the department and who should be doing what. Intent to do the right thing exists but you, their manager, have not effectively communicated with clarity on what the right thing is to do.
Refocus Your Team: In order to manage effectively, you need to first communicate effectively. That means that the path you set for your team, the priorities, timelines, roles and responsibilities, as well as expectations for results, depends on your ability to communicate in a manner that everyone understands the same way, at the same time.
Be Proactive: Having a team meeting to present objectives is not enough. Instead:
- Review team objectives individually with each member of your team.
- Follow up with a group meeting to reiterate and show consistency in your message.
- Create a team document that details objectives and distribute to everyone.
- Create metrics to capture weekly or monthly results that are inline with the objectives you have set.
- Review the results of your metrics often and regularly with your team.
At the end of the day, your objectives as manager are to set the path, organize the team, remove roadblocks and achieve results by efficiently utilizing human, financial and all other resources. Spending your time creating a team environment is a major success variable, but so is spending your time overcoming and averting conflict that can interrupt your team’s success.
I hope you find this article useful and are able to implement the concepts within your own work environment, whether you are a manager, or a team member faced with a conflict of your own.
Written by Lisa Woods, President Lisa Woods Consulting & Founder of ManagingAmericans.com
Lisa is a dynamic business leader & author located in Western New York with more than 20 years experience leading, managing and driving growth in the corporate world. Today she partners with business leaders to understand their vision, identify internal and external roadblocks, define a practical strategic path forward and guide a successful transformation. This work includes strategy definition & goal setting, organizational design, facilitating team buy-in, establishing visual metrics, internal and external research studies, business feasibility assessments, and investor insight into organizational strength, weakness & strategic opportunity. She helps business leaders drive growth & increase profits.
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