Strategies for Resolving Team Conflict
Strategies for Resolving Team Conflict
Many organizations, including colleges and major corporations, have begun the process of implementing work team systems. Teams present a greater diversity of knowledge, ideas, and experience than any one individual can offer. This diversity often helps to improve quality, create collaboration, enhance information exchange, and provide a sense of community and support to the team members ; however, it can also foster conflict. Conflict is a part of everyday life and is generally caused by individual opinions and differences. “When individuals work in teams, differences in power, values, attitudes, and social factors can all contribute to conflict”. Avoiding conflict completely is impossible; however, the resulting outcome does not have to be negative. Using effective strategies to manage conflict can present positive consequences as well.
Prevention is usually the best cure for most problems. When all members participate in setting rules and guidelines, open communication and mutual understanding is created within the team that may defuse a conflict before it becomes a problem. “It is, after all, easier to agree on guidelines and processes everyone believes are fair when things are going well, rather than when the team members are in the midst of conflict”. When the team makes these decisions as a group instead of receiving direct instructions from an authority figure, they are able to take ownership in the decision made and enforce it more effectively. In addition, various training courses and workshops are offered that team members can take advantage of to build awareness and acquire skills which could reduce or even prevent conflicts from arising in the first place. Some of these programs include team building, diversity training, communication workshops, and conflict management seminars.
First Steps in Conflict Resolution
Despite exercising preventative measures, the possibility that conflict may occur still exists. When conflict does arise, the first step is to analyze and understand the problem. The team members should try to discover the causes and reasons for the disagreement. Each team member should examine their own individual response to the conflict and determine if their reactions are supportive of or interfering with the overall success of the team. The team members should also examine the consequences of not being able to solve the conflict, as well as discuss ways to settle the conflict within the team. Finally, the team should decide which conflict resolution strategy to apply to the situation.
Employing Conflict Resolution Strategies
After the team members have analyzed the conflict and have a complete understanding of the situation, they are then equipped to resolve the conflict by employing the conflict resolution strategy which they have decided upon as a team. “Ralph H. Kilmann and Kenneth W. Thomas, authors of the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument, have identified five general approaches to dealing with conflict: avoidance; accommodation; competition; compromise; and collaboration” . Each style of dealing with conflict varies in the degrees of cooperativeness and assertiveness. Cooperativeness refers to the party’s desire to satisfy the other’s concern, and assertiveness describes the party’s desire to satisfy their own concern . While most people generally have a preferred conflict resolution style, different styles can be useful in different situations. No one strategy is appropriate in all situations—each requires a different amount of time, energy, and cooperation.
This style of conflict resolution usually attracts people who are trying to evade conflict completely. In this instance, the parties are neither assertive nor cooperative. Avoidance is usually demonstrated by delegating controversial decisions, accepting default decisions, and not wanting to hurt anyone’s feelings. This is an appropriate strategy to use when winning becomes impossible, when the conflict is unimportant, or when someone else is in a better position to solve the problem. This strategy is sometimes used when the parties involved need time to control their emotions.
This style of conflict resolution indicates a willingness to meet the needs of others at the expense of the person’s own needs. In this instance, cooperation is high and assertiveness is low . Accommodation allows a person to be persuaded to surrender his or her own position even though the submission is not justified. This is an appropriate strategy to use when issues are more important than the other party, when harmony is more valuable than winning, or when pacifying another person becomes important. This approach is sometimes used to establish goodwill that can be traded for favors in the future .
This style of conflict resolution is often used by people who know what they want and take a firm stand; they are usually in a position of power or have a strong persuasive ability. In this instance, cooperation is low and assertiveness is high. This is an appropriate strategy to use when an emergency occurs and a decision needs to be made quickly, when the decision is not a popular one, or when one party is trying to exploit the situation. However, this style can cause unsatisfied or resentful feelings in some team members when used in less urgent situations.
This style of conflict resolution is often used to find a solution that will partially satisfy everyone involved. Each party, including the compromiser, is expected to relinquish something. In this instance, both medium assertiveness and cooperation are prominent. This is an appropriate strategy to use when the cost of conflict is higher than achieving the team’s goals, when equally matched parties are at an impasse, or when a deadline needs to be met in a short amount of time.
This style of conflict resolution is used when attempting to meet the needs of all people involved. In this instance, both cooperation and assertiveness are high, and the concerns are equally important. This is an appropriate strategy to use when a variety of viewpoints need to be addressed, when there have been previous conflicts within the group, or when the situation is too important for a simple exchange of position. With the collaboration strategy, everyone wins; however, the technique does require the most time and effort in order to resolve the situation.
Team Benefits and Challenges
As stated earlier conflict can be either a negative or positive experience for a team, depending on how the situation is processed and resolved. In many cases, effective conflict resolution skills can make the difference between positive and negative outcomes. Usually negative conflict will damage a team’s dynamics, which prevents the members from functioning as a group and achieving their combined goals. Conflict can be destructive when no decision has been reached and the problem still exists; when it diverts energy away from more important activities; when it destroys morale; and when it divides teams. In contrast, when conflict is resolved successfully, positive outcomes prevail. Successful conflict resolution not only solves the problem that has been brought to the surface, but it also benefits the team in some unexpected ways. Conflict can be constructive when people change and grow personally from the conflict; when a solution the problem is found; when it increases the involvement of the team, and when it builds cohesiveness among the team members.
Conflict Management in the Workplace
“Conflict is a part of everyday working life yet it's a situation and an area of skill development that many employees avoid.” The fundamentals of conflict management include improving communication, promoting teamwork and an orderly approach to solving disagreements. There are various ways to manage conflict in the workplace.Author Carter McNamara, of Basics of Conflict Management, defines conflict as “when two or more values, perspectives and opinions are contradictory in nature and haven't been aligned or agreed about”. Sometimes conflict can be a positive force within an organization, while other times it is a negative force. An example of conflict as a positive force is that the resolution may lead the company to constructive problem solving. It may also lead people to find ways of changing how they do things or view themselves and others. The resolution process can bring a positive change within an organization. However, conflict can also have negative effects. For example, conflict may lower morale or lessen productivity. It also may negatively affect the mental well-being of employees and cause stress. Supervisors must be sensitive to the consequences of conflict. These consequences range from negative outcomes to include loss of employees, low quality of work, and stress, to positive outcomes such as personal satisfaction, high quality of work, and increased commitment. Author Lyndsey Swinton of “Workplace Conflict Management: Strategy for Successful Resolution”, suggests some ways to manage conflict to include: avoidance, accommodation, compromise, competition and collaboration. Avoidance is a non-assertive, non-co-operative way of dealing with a situation. It can be useful if the conflict is not urgent but avoiding the person can bring more stress into the work environment over long term. Accommodation is when one side will win, and one will lose. One person is allowed to get their way, but from a management standpoint if this strategy is used repeatedly, then co-workers may feel their voice is never heard. Compromise offers some assertiveness and cooperation. Both parties involved must give and take in their situation so that both can walk away feeling they met in the middle. Competition style has a steamrolling effect. It is a win-lose approach. With this style one person is allowed to push their ideals through but if they fall short, they stand on their own with no support of their coworkers. A collaborating style is a win-win approach brought about by sharing and reviewing the reasons the conflict even came about. This approach can be very time consuming and is rarely used unfortunately because it is the most fair to all parties involved. Studies on different styles of resolutions indicate that teamwork is the best approach to managing workplace conflict. This tends to promote successful individuals with high performance levels and results in positive feelings between staff and employees. The collaborating style works best for some. It is a step by step approach utilizing the chain of command to resolve conflict. First, the incident is reported to the supervisor. The supervisor then gathers information to gain a better understanding and then identifies possible causes. Then the issue is taken to the Human Resource department so an appropriate solution can be decided upon. Then all parties involved return to execute the solution. “Conflicts are part of individual relationships and organizational development, and no organization can hope to mature to productivity and be successful without being able to resolve conflicts effectively” . Conflict resolution is an essential part of maintaining a successful workplace and the techniques and approaches should be utilized separately or in conjunction with each other, in order to promote a more unified work environment.
Conflict can be incredibly destructive to good teamwork. Differences between team members can quickly escalate causing the members to become uncooperative if not managed properly, eventually threatening the mission of the team. This is particularly true in cases where the wrong approaches to conflict resolution are applied. To control these situations, it helps to take a positive approach to conflict resolution. Positive conflict resolution focuses on courteous and non-confrontational discussion, as well as on the issues instead of on the individuals. As long as team members listen carefully to one another and explore the facts, issues and possible solutions properly, conflict can often be resolved effectively.
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