The potential for team conflict is increasing: uncertainty and complexity together with the challenges of remote working can create misunderstandings, tension and even resentment.

How should managers respond?  A good starting point is to be open to the possibility of team conflict and be ready to tackle any future problems:

  • Learn to spot the early signs of conflict (eg body language, facial expressions, tone of voice, change of behaviour).
  • Understand that there are many potential sources of the problem (e.g., structure, process, personalities – possibly even your own actions).
  • Have a conflict resolution process for serious issues
  • Be proactive – deal with problems promptly and fairly.
  • When necessary, be prepared to take firm action.

If you do see conflict within your team, take the following actions to resolve it:

  1. Acknowledge the conflict early – don’t allow a toxic atmosphere to develop and quickly clamp down on inappropriate behaviours.
  2. Have a team pause and arrange a “clearing the air” session – this feels difficult but in fact it’s usually easier than you imagine.
  3. Speak to the relevant team members individually – find a safe and private place to talk openly and to clarify positions.
  4. Bring people together – actively listen and let each person have their say. List facts and assumptions.
  5. Agree on the best solution and determine the responsibilities each team member has in its implementation. Draw up a plan together.
  6. Follow up, evaluate how things are going and agree preventative strategies for the future.
  7. If appropriate, celebrate a successful outcome as a team.

It also often helps to involve the wider team for ideas – encourage collaboration towards the common goal. Subject to confidentiality requirements, over communicate – don’t leave a vacuum to be filled by rumours and gossip.

Finally, remember that not all conflict is bad. Sometimes disagreements help to avoid groupthink and lead to new, better ways of doing things.

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