Teams consist of people. And people, by nature, are different.
Distinctive personalities, values and perceptions impact the attitudes and behaviours of individuals in a team.
Often, where there is difference, room for conflict increases, in the form of:
Task conflict: disagreements over what the team is supposed to accomplish.
Relationship conflict: disagreements between members that have become personal.
Process conflicts: disagreements over how the team should go about its work.
This is inevitable, regardless of the size and scope of the business.
Many of us have been conditioned to perceive conflict negatively, which is true when that conflict is correlated to unresolved issues of communication, role identity, inequality, exclusion etc.
However, it can also be a positive force. In fact, conflict can be a catalyst, rather than a hindrance, to growth and improvement in teams.
The key lies in:
1. Understanding its nature
Conflict is a process of people disagreeing, and as we’ve said, it is inevitable in the workplace. However, they range from minor to major, in severity, occurrence and implications. It is this range that is key in revealing whether the conflict at hand is detrimental or favourable. Is there tension because there are multiple ways to approach the task or because someone feels insulted? Is the bickering due to stress or is it a constant argument? Analyse the situation carefully and you’ll gain a lot of insight.
2. Learning how to manage it
Adults can often resolve conflict themselves, but sometimes, the situation may call for intervention from a manager or leader, providing guidance or mediation. Learning how to manage the conflict is imperative to either resolve the issue or facilitate its effectiveness.
3. Reflection on the “Lessons Learnt”
While conflict may be complex, it can lead to change and productivity, which is essential organisational viability. Once the issue has been resolved, or action and measures taken, it is imperative to reflect on the success or challenges experienced. What steps were taken this time, and what could you do differently next time? If the outcome hasn’t been ideal, keep in mind that it isn’t failure if a lesson has been learnt.
Ultimately, rather than seeing conflict as the opposite of collaboration, it can be very empowering to see the two as interdependent elements of a successful team. Collaboration without diversity, challenges and questions will not result in innovation or achievement. What is needed is collaboration where diversity, challenges and questions develop ideas, expose risks and lead to enhanced communication and trust within teams.