It is inevitable that discord among team members will arise from time to time, and stepping in to tackle and resolve conflict ranks pretty low on most managers’ list of enjoyable activities. But unhandled friction erodes morale and productivity, and can turn even top performers into stressed out B-team players.
When disharmony is affecting your group, you may be tempted to take cover and hope your people figure it out on their own. But left unaddressed, conflicts tend to worsen. Rather than hiding or throwing your hands up in the hair, here are some ideas for managing the issue head-on.
This is Your Responsibility
Avoiding conflict is a normal reaction for many people. But as the leader, it is actually your job to create a work environment that minimizes conflict and allows for rapid resolution when it does arise.
The sooner you accept that this is your responsibility, the sooner you can get started.
Know Where Things Stand
People who are stressed out and mired in conflict can lose sight of what they are trying to accomplish. While they are busy being exasperated and pointing fingers, people’s attention to their own work often suffers. To get the team back on track, you need to get clear yourself on where things stand with the mission and goals.
For projects, look at the initial objectives, schedules, priorities and resources that were put into place at project launch. Are all roles and responsibilities clearly articulated? Are the outcomes clearly defined? Has anything changed? What is the status on interim milestones?
For teams that are continually in disharmony, think about what the group’s purpose is. What is the team’s contribution to the business? What are they providing to your customers? How are the key people performing? Has the team’s effectiveness changed?
As you look over the terrain, recognize areas where you can do a better job keeping the team supported with resources, information, and clarity.
Get the Team on the Same Page
It’s time to call a meeting to re-establish your purpose and get everyone on the same page. For such a discussion, it’s always a good idea to establish and enforce ground rules:
- We are all on the same team.
- We all have the same goals.
- There are some rough spots, but we are smart, so we will figure it out.
- The focus is on issues and solutions – accusation and finger-pointing are not on the agenda.
- Similarly, this is not an opportunity to vent. Emotions get checked at the door.
Just as you did for yourself, review the mission with your people, and get aligned with everyone on status, goals, timelines, priorities. If there are any discrepancies in understanding, provide clarification. If any information is missing, furnish it.
This exercise is about alignment. So note the issues that are causing conflict but put aside problem-solving for the moment. You cannot move forward until you are all clear on what the current status and desired outcomes are.
Now open up the conversation to identifying any other issues that are problematic. Remember to keep the tone positive and enforce the meeting ground rules (including for yourself).
Once you have your list of issues, it’s time for brainstorming and creating solutions. Look at ways to improve processes, tools and methodologies. Then go around the group and ask each person what they themselves will do to improve things. Not what they want someone else to do, but what they will do. You are not exempt from this activity.
When you feel like you have covered all the bases, conclude by reiterating where you are headed and how you have all agreed to contribute to the solution.
After the meeting, communicate in writing what was agreed upon. Then hold people accountable. With the process now smoothed over and the team back on track, you can more clearly see if you have any performance issues that need to be attended to. (As with resolving conflict, the quicker you deal with performance problems, the better for everyone.) Moving forward, keep an eye on how things are going and repeat the above process as needed.
Did It Work?
How do you know if you’ve been successful? By the results. If stress levels are down and people are getting back to productive work, communicating respectfully, and holding good on their commitments, you are doing your job.
Remember, it doesn’t matter if your team members like each other; what matters is how they perform. If they are committed to the project and doing a good job, their adult, professional selves will trump whatever personal issues they may have.
To Sum It Up
When faced with conflict on your team, you don’t need to hide or succumb to frustration. Instead:
- Take responsibility
- Get clear on your mission and status
- Align with the team
- Discuss issues and solutions
- Hold the team (and yourself) accountable
- Keep an eye on productivity and intervene early and often to keep things running smoothly
About the Author
Jennine Heller combines years of business and management experience with her training as a professional performance coach to help leaders achieve the success they are capable of. She has a long background in tech, including seven years at her own startup. After the acquisition of her company, Jennine went on to run operations at a leading web services company, and has more recently been a coach for other executives, managers, and entrepreneurs. You can find Jennine at www.booster-stage.com and on Twitter at @boosterstage.