Strategies for Managing Team Conflict

Three steps to resolving team conflict.

If there is occasional friction among your team members, rest assured you’re not alone. In fact, because we spend so much of our time at work — most often with others — there’s bound to be some level of conflict. Conflict isn’t necessarily a bad thing — it can help us understand different points of view and perspectives. Learning how to work through conflict is a life skill, and its value is something you can provide to your employees.

Why team conflict occurs

Your team members likely have different backgrounds, experiences and skillsets — and that’s part of what makes a diverse team highly effective. But, those differences can also lead to differences of opinion. As a leader, your role is to help your team discuss differences, overcome any conflict and reach a decision collaboratively.

Team conflict can be a detriment if leaders don’t step in and mediate. Conflict in the workplace can happen when there is:

  • Disagreement over positions, opinions or strategies
  • Mistrust or poor communication
  • Personal agendas
  • Personality differences
  • Unfair treatment between employees
How to resolve team conflict

Recognizing and resolving team conflict before it escalates into a tense situation is an essential role of a leader. Conflict resolution takes time and skill. Rather than focusing on a quick fix, take the time necessary to turn around a challenging situation or work environment and create a harmonious, productive environment. Use this three-step process to help your team work through differences and reach a mutually agreeable outcome.

Step 1: Acknowledge the conflict

Ignoring the problem certainly won’t make it go away, so begin by acknowledging the conflict. Then, ask each team member to:

Agree to the cooperative resolution process. You won’t get anywhere if everyone doesn’t agree to be civil and agree that resolution is the best path forward.

Keep communication open. After you have spoken to each team member individually (if needed),come back together as a group and ask each person to begin open communication and active listening. Doing so reinforces respect and trust in the team.

Step 2: Understand the situation

Once everyone has agreed to do their part to seek resolution, you’ll need to work to get to the bottom of the conflict. This is not a blaming opportunity or a he-said-she-said situation. Ask each individual team member to:

Take a stand. Each person should feel supported and safe when candidly explaining where they stand in relation to the conflict. This step allows each person involved to share their view of the situation.

Take a step back and consider a different perspective. You may need to speak with each person individually if emotions are high. Encourage them to describe what the other person’s perspective is— this helps build understanding and empathy. This step should work to validate differing opinions, not personally attack another’s viewpoint.

After you have gathered the facts and opinions about the situation, you should bring the team back together as a group. Outline the information as objectively as possible before opening the floor for discussion.

Step 3: Reach resolution

Once you have shared the facts and opinions during individual and small group discussions, it’s time to work toward reaching a resolution. The team must use the facts of the situation to work through the conflict and come to a resolution that is agreeable to all. Identify strategies that blend opinions and input for a better solution to the original problem.

Examine what led to the conflict. Was there a breakdown in communication? Did someone not follow standard procedures? Is there a personality conflict?

Remember, the team is looking to you as a leader to bring stability, collaboration and common ground. You can help guide the team to determine what can be done in the future to help move the team forward more productively and effectively. By productively managing conflict, your team will better understand each other and trust one another’s intentions.

For more information

To learn more, reach out to our Human Resources Consulting team.

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