Conflict within a team is inevitable, but it doesn’t always have to be debilitating. In fact, handling conflict constructively can actually strengthen a team, fostering development and trust.
When problems arise, it's easy for people to display some less than desirable behaviors. As unpleasant as they may be, they are a natural reaction to dealing with stress. When trying to recognize conflict in the workplace, it is helpful to be aware of some of the most common stress behaviors. These include: 1) becoming uncomfortable and withdrawing from the situation, 2) rapidly trying to come up with a solution to fix the problem, even if it is not in the best interest of the team, 3) finding someone to blame. If these types of behaviors are left unchecked within a team for too long, it could eventually become damaging to productivity.
While you want to identify and solve a conflict quickly, it is also important to take the time to do it right. One of the most effective ways to resolve a conflict is with a systematic, steady approach that takes the team through several collaborative stages.
Identify the Issues
Before you can start to think of a solution, you need to clearly identify the problem. Start by getting input from all team members, as everyone may have different views on what the real issues are. Be sure to ask questions that dig to the heart of a problem and try to identify the root cause.
If you don’t dig deep into the issue, it is likely to keep occurring, just in a different context. One way to help discern the root cause is to ask your team members to identify at least five possible triggers for the problem at hand.
Understand Individual Interests
Everyone involved in a conflict, regardless of how big or small it may be, is likely to have input on how they would like to see the issue resolved. Often, these solutions are derived from the desire to satisfy a specific, individual agenda. This information is valuable as it can guide you in the direction of a sustainable solution that will meet the needs of everyone on the team.
List Potential Solutions
Once you are able to identify the issues behind the conflict and better understand the needs of your team, you are ready to start brainstorming potential solutions. Make sure you only list solutions at this point—evaluation will come later.
Motivate team members to be creative and come up with ideas that may not be as necessarily obvious as others. You also want to encourage free thinking and allow team members to propose as many options as they can. The more solutions presented, the more likely your team is to find the one that will work best for them.
As an added bonus, the more you can get your team thinking creatively about conflict resolution in the workplace, the greater their contribution to their own team building and team development.
Evaluate the Solutions
Once you have a complete list of potential solutions, it’s time to evaluate the options. Have the team make a list of the pros and cons of each choice and rank them based on the positive attributes it can bring to the team.
Encourage team members to remain as honest as possible when discussing each solution. It is imperative they don’t downplay the negative aspects of one that may satisfy their personal interests or disregard the positive aspects of another that may not.
Evaluation criteria should include things such as how long the solution will take to implement, how it will impact those involved, its effect on the overall company, and its ability to meet everyone’s interests.
Select One or More Solutions
Once all your potential solutions have been evaluated and ranked, it’s time to choose what will work best for the team. More than one solution may be called for, particularly if you can combine them for even stronger results.
The ideal resolution will be one that maintains the overarching balance of the team and organization while also satisfying the personal interests of as many team members as possible. It is important to remember that not everyone will necessarily agree with the final plan, but having them involved in the brainstorming process will ensure their voice is heard.
You also want to make sure you prioritize your options based on their overall ease and speed of implementation. An acceptable solution you can implement quickly, for instance, is typically more advantageous than an exceptional solution that is more complicated, costly, and would take longer to implement. Here, we’re reminded of an adage that notes every big problem was once a small problem that could have been resolved easily at that time.
Once you have selected your top choice, ask your team members to outline the worst case scenario if the final solution fails and how they would fix it. Make sure everyone is able to accept the possibility that it may not work and ensure they are open to trying a different option if all else fails.
Document the Game Plan
Writing down the agreed upon plan, along with those responsible for implementing it, will go a long way toward ensuring action is taken. Here you can also outline contingency agreements if conditions change and the plan needs to be altered accordingly.
Make sure your team has a way to measure progress toward the resolution and monitor a resolution’s success. Establish a firm deadline as to when the issues should be resolved, breaking up the progress into smaller goals if the overall solution will take an extended period to execute.
Resolving team conflicts using the above steps can help mitigate conflicts while also contributing to team building and development along the way. Instead of viewing problems as negative hassles, you can begin to look at them as challenges that can help strengthen relationships, deepen understanding, and lead to an ongoing positive experience surrounding conflict resolution in the workplace.
Using personality assessments in the workplace can be a powerful tool when trying to recognize and resolve conflict within a team. The Birkman Method provides insight into the hidden aspects of an individual's personality, making it easier to identify if someone on your team is going through a period of stress. It also indicates some of the challenges you may come across when trying to resolve conflict within the team. For example, if someone has the tendency to be less assertive than other members of the group, they may be less comfortable with openly proposing solutions, even if they have a great idea. Having this insight ahead of time gives you the opportunity to leverage this information and devise a plan that will help make this person more comfortable during a brainstorming session.