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Conflict reduction in teams June 7, 2009

Posted by fetzthechemist in Uncategorized.
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Conflict is best avoided up front! This can be done by the team leader and the team members. Operational rules and buy in of the objectives and plans are the easiest and best approach. That may be discussed in a future newsletter.

If conflict does arise on an extant team, there are two directions in which to deal with conflict in a team situation. I will speak in terms of a project team, as opposed to an organizational team. The project team is formed of diverse people, usually with each individual being responsible for certain areas and often from different organizational units.

The first steps in resolving team conflicts are based on an analysis of the team dynamics. This may sound complex and time consuming, but in reality is simple because it is based on assessing the personality types involved. In contrast to overall personality typing, like Myers Briggs, this focuses on the interaction styles of individuals and how they interplay. These styles are accentuated when there is a conflict or differences in opinions on goals, direction, and plans.

People can be divided into different categories in numerous ways. In interacting there are varying degrees of extrovert and introvert, aggressiveness, collaboration and competitiveness, and possessiveness. Some people shrink away from conflict and competitiveness; some are aggressive and see everything as a clash of wills, some compromise readily by trying to blend their own views and aims with those of others, and some givers over any issues to the point where they have no individual viewpoint. The degrees of give and take and the feelings of togetherness versus individuality dominate team dynamics.

The two approaches are solutions those by the team and its members and those by the team’s leader. The team can surmount these differences and avoid conflicts if it defines common goals and values in the early stages. The goals may seem to be self-evident, but each person has motivations. Some want to do new science. Some want to be recognized and rewarded. Some want the collegial sense of accomplishment, etc. The overall goal may be developing a new product or designing a new piece of equipment or creating a report, but these are interpreted in more detail by each person and tailored to his or her attitudes. The team can shape plans, schedules, ways of doing things, and how the work is reported and recognized so that some of each person’s individual aims are met.

For example, if a person is individualistic and competitive, then that person’s tasks and portion of the work can be structured as a stand alone sub-project done by him or her. This allows for individual accomplishment and recognition as part of the whole effort. For another, team orientation is key. Portions of the project involving that person can be structured to be shared tasks. These can include tasks such as communications – the writing of updates and reports or giving progress reports to stakeholders, allocating resources and coordinating them, and convening and running team meetings.

As a team leader, you can reduce conflict by various ways. If the conflict is interpersonal, you can meet with each individual and then with those involved as a group to reconcile the issues. You can create open communications by having discussions by the team and those with you individually or by sub-teams be safe zones – areas where there is no threat of punitive action and thoughts can be expressed freely and openly. This may require you to be a moderator who demands mutual respect among team members. You can bring renewed focus to the team as a reminder of the overall goal. You can create milestones and celebrate these intermediate accomplishments on the path. You can make people aware of the differences, but that this is normal, acceptable, and not a block to the team’s success.

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