Even in the best run organizations or the highest functioning teams, there is actual or potential for conflict. In many cases, there are a number of festering or unresolved team member issues. These may even be minor such as someone doing less than their fair share of the work, someone griping about something and causing morale issues, or simply two team members who don’t get along.
If you are a team leader, the first thought you may have is, “should I get involved in this now or ever?” Instinctively, you know that handling interpersonal conflicts in any organization can be difficult. You also know that unresolved issues can have a negative impact on your team and organization if they are not resolved in an effective manner an on a timely basis.
I don’t have a “magic bullet” solution, but here are four (4) suggestions that will definitely help you deal with interpersonal issues:
- Focus on the problem – Do not blame particular individuals. Identify the issues in question and invite others to join with you in thinking about potential solutions. At the beginning of the discussion, describe how you feel the identified situation affects the team and seek consensus as to your accuracy in identifying the operative issue. To the maximum extent possible, avoid repeating or adding rumors to the discussion and focus on the positive. The key focus should be on the benefits to your team or organization if you solve the problem. If your helpers agree that you have identified the correct issue as a problem, ask for their assistance in brainstorming ways to remediate the situation.
- Engage in joint problem solving – Since others may view a given situation quite differently than you do, begin your discussion by asking open-ended questions and testing your assumptions. What you are seeking to achieve is the verification of everyone’s interests before considering any possible solutions. If the situation warrants, you might consider asking someone from the HR department to facilitate the meeting or serve as an ombudsman.
- Provide effective feedback – Adopt the position that, in the future, you will intervene in appropriate issues sooner rather than later. Consider offering some assistance or training for team members to learn how to give constructive feedback so they can express their concerns in a positive manner rather than letting them fester. The simple components of effective feedback is to ask questions, stay positive, describe how the situation makes you feel, and give specific details.The desired outcome is that your team or department will be an environment where feedback is welcomed and not punished. If it has been difficult for people to raise concerns, the goal is to make it easier for people to raise concerns. Finally, plan regular check-in meetings to discuss ongoing issues.
- Different roles – Going forward, formally or informally, there are many different roles that must be played to address conflicts as they arise. These include the roles of teacher, bridge builder, mediator, arbiter, equalizer, healer, witness, referee, or peacekeeper. One person may not be able to play all of these roles, so it is appropriate to delegate some of them to someone with the skills and interest.
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