Responding to Inner Team Conflict

Judging by the number of experiences people have shared with me, there are way too many managers, bad managers, who handle inner-team conflict in only one of two ways. Some bad managers will ignore the conflict. Other bad managers will insist that the team members work issues out for themselves. The former strategy makes no sense. The latter has potential if done well.

Fortunately, even though there may be a number of reasons for inner-team conflict, there is one strategy that can be used to address most cases. It may be radical to some bad managers but ‘rad’ is exactly the term we’re going to go with to help remember the strategy that can be used to respond to inner-team conflict. The three-step strategy is Recognize the conflict, Address the conflict, and Develop a team plan for future issues.

Recognize the Conflict

As mentioned earlier, when a bad manager recognizes conflict on a team they will either ignore the conflict or insist team members work out the conflict on their own. Of course, these responses usually do not resolve anything. Better managers use a better definition of recognition; one that includes not only an acknowledgement that an issue exists but also includes a willingness to take personal action towards the resolution of the conflict.

Address the Conflict

There are several great books that outline strategies team leaders can turn to for ways to effectively address inner team conflict. A few of my favorites include Crucial Conversations by Patterson et al, and Switch: How to Change Things when Change is Hard by Chip Heath. Regardless of which strategy you choose, a major key to success with this step is that the strategy be known to team members before it is needed. This way, there will be no question that conflicts will be addressed. Another key to success is that you in fact address the conflict. Take every step necessary to see that all sides of the conflict have been addressed and that team members can afterward move forward.

Develop a Team Conflict Resolution Plan

I recognize that this may be the Utopian status of team situations – cases where team members can resolve all conflicts on their own. This level of achievement may not be possible because all team members may not be able to do this. Still, a starting point should not be too difficult to establish. Together with team members, determine how all would like to respond to conflicts as they arise. Give them the reigns to determine what steps should be taken and then give the plan a chance. Train your team members how to work through conflict together and then, if your help is needed, you’ll be that much further along towards a resolution.

The term may be a bit out of date now, but the concept should not be – get RAD about handling inner-team conflict. Your team members will appreciate your stepping up to play the role you are being paid to fill, and you will be well on the road to a more effective, productive team.