“Conflict will destroy the team that hasn’t spent time learning to deal with it.”
In an ideal world, your team is made up of a carefully selected group of people whose personalities and skill sets complement each other. In the real world, however, teams are often much more ragtag.
When people from all walks of life come together in a pressurised work environment, disagreements are inevitable.
We differ in gender, age, race, sexuality, culture, and religion. We’ve had different life experiences; we think and react to situations differently – yet despite our differences, in the workplace, we’re somehow expected to all get along.
Interestingly, it’s actually the diversity of a team’s members and the sum of all the parts, which can make the difference between a team being good and a team being great.
But what happens when a team is already well established and conflict runs deep? And how do you deal with a colleague whom you continually lock horns with?
In this article, we’ll take a look at some common triggers of conflicts within teams and discuss how we as coaches, can support you in dealing with them.
Within a workplace, there are two main types of conflict:
Task-Based Conflicts: These are arguments that arise over goals, tasks, and the allocation of resources.
Emotional-Based Conflicts: These are relationship-based and therefore less tangible.
Triggers include jealousy, insecurity, annoyance, envy, and a clash of personalities or working styles. (source: Luman Learning)
Conflict bleeds; it spreads and infects those around it creating an uncomfortable atmosphere for everyone. The wider team is often dragged into disagreements, resulting in divisions and undue stress and anxiety.
Conflicts can occur at all levels within a business. Regardless of seniority and whether a clash is between peers or managers and their subordinates, it’s imperative it’s dealt with swiftly; no one person is ever more important than the team as a whole.
When we’re working with our clients, we like them to look at the ‘bigger picture'. It’s not just about the relationships involved, it’s about leadership style, team culture, stress levels, and workplace practices; even the layout of the office can spark conflict.
Below, we look at some of the more common triggers, when it comes to workplace conflict.
“Any executive, any CEO should not have 1 management style. Your management style needs to be dictated by your employee.”
Despite having the best of intentions, sometimes, those in charge get it wrong.
Shocking; I know.
Good leaders vary their style to suit the individual employee, but when this doesn’t happen, it can be the cause of a manager/employee conflict.
A leader with an authoritative, micro-managing approach, for example, may inadvertently upset members of the team who are more submissive and cautious.
Perceived management favouritism can also cause a rift between employees. You’d be forgiven for thinking that singling a team member out as the ‘golden one’, would give everybody else something to aspire to. On the contrary, this style of management can create bitterness and resentment amongst colleagues.
When helping a client through a team issue, we encourage them to look inwards as well as at the people around them. We conduct psychometric testing to determine their approach and then help them to understand the impact of their communication style on the people and environment around them.
Roles and Responsibilities:
“Highly effective teams have clearly articulated roles and responsibilities.”
Having clearly defined job roles is key to creating a harmonious work environment. It prevents work from being duplicated, gives the team direction, and stops them from stepping on each other's toes.
People are territorial by nature, so it’s wise to ensure there are no blurred lines and that employees know exactly what their role in the team is.
Role Allocation and Training:
A colleague who is perceived to be not pulling their weight is always going to cause a conflict. Team members are cogs in a machine; if one isn’t functioning as it should, it impacts the overall performance of the engine. Teams are only as strong as their weakest player and if everyone is picking up the slack, who is driving things forward?
It's important in this situation that you take the time to understand what the underlying issue is.
Is the employee’s lack of input simply due to them having a poor work ethic, or does it run deeper than that? For example, misunderstanding expectations, poor training, or their suitability for the role could all influence performance and indirectly trigger conflict.
We guide our clients through investigating team performance issues and support them in dealing with the result. Whether that be refining recruitment and training procedures or performance managing the individual in question.
There’s always one. That stubborn so-and-so on your team; they’re always nit-picking at your suggestions and being difficult to a fault. They must just have it in for you….
“If you could be a fly on the wall when your work nemesis is venting about you to friend or spouse, you’d probably hear the same things said about you.”
Managing a personal conflict takes great intent, craft, skill, and a lot of courage. You’ve got to be the bigger person and when ambition and ego are involved, that’s not always easy.
When we work with clients who are struggling with a relationship at work, we encourage them to put themselves in the other person’s shoes. We also complete self-discovery exercises to understand how their behaviour is influencing the conflict.
“Conflict resolution is first mindset and then skill set.”
Ultimately, a dialogue needs to be opened up; if we’re to fully understand other people and their points of view, we must communicate well.
The Working Environment:
“Your working environment impacts your mood, drive, mental health and performance.”
It’s theorised that people are a product of their environment, or at least we are in part. If that’s true, considering the average Brit spends 37 hours a week at the office, an uncomfortable working environment is bound to have an impact on their behaviour.
A working environment should be comfortable in a physical sense; your team must not be working on top of each other and they need to be provided with the correct tools and space to do their jobs.
In the less tangible sense of the word, having a comfortable environment is about team culture and the general atmosphere in the workplace.
“Culture is what motivates and retains talented employees.”
When you enter your place of work, does it feel like a relaxed, harmonious, fun place to be? Or could you cut the tension with a knife?
As a leader, YOU are responsible for communicating and enforcing rules around acceptable conduct. Your team needs to know, understand and adhere to company values.
Bullying, harassing, or excluding team members, for example, can result in conflict, anxiety, stress, and a high turnover of staff.
You must lead by example.
Talk to your team, discuss their issues and foster an environment where they can all work together in a productive way.
A coach will help you to look at loyalties, the individuals on your team, your leadership, and the overall work culture.
Conflict can be a good thing!
“If we manage conflict constructively, we harness it's energy for creativity and development.”
Not all workplace conflict is bad; it’s actually a good thing to feel challenged by your peers. Teammates trying to overcome conflict through dialogue are pushed to think creatively, and often uncover new ways of doing things as they compromise.
People also need to feel comfortable speaking up if they aren’t happy. In a team environment where disagreements and ‘rocking the boat’ are heavily discouraged, employees may not voice an annoyance, for fear of being called out. This creates more tension and ultimately, people may leave.
As individuals, we need to communicate well to understand our colleagues, to embrace other points of view, and appreciate uniqueness.
It’s all about finding a balance and advocating honest and open dialogue.
Coaching through Conflict
Conflict management is an art form.
By taking you on a journey of self-discovery, a coach will help you to better understand your own motivations and respond well to those of the people around you.
Conflict will rear its head; it always does. A coach can provide you with the right tools, knowledge, and confidence to deal with it quickly and efficiently.
“Conflict is the beginning of consciousness.”
Mary Esther Harding
If this article has resonated and you feel you might benefit from some conflict coaching, please get in touch.
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Let us help you to be all you can be, in 2022.