Conflict Resolution Part 2
Keeping an eye on the balance
Wherever people are together there is conflict. One person believes that they are not getting the same levels of attention or opportunities as someone else. Another person thinks they are overworked while another thinks they are not trusted. People on their own can be difficult but put them in a team and the web becomes far more intricate because the dynamics create a whole new level of volatility. When you work with difficult people in a team you are not just working with individuals – you are also working with something that is going on between individuals.
We may be able to choose who we live with but we cannot necessarily select who we work with – nor should we.
Three key things that should under pin all other factors are:
1. You are the manager.
It sounds obvious but if you are the team leader or manager you have been put in that place to do just that – manage. Therefore there has to be a point at which you say ‘I am going to do something about this’, and you have the authority to do so.
2. This is a work situation.
We may be able to choose who we marry or live with but we cannot necessarily select who we work with – nor should we. Team workers should be selected for what skills, knowledge and attributes they bring to the team and the work – not the skills, knowledge and attributes you would like in a best friend. Work situations demand that the focus is not necessarily on having fun, it is on achieving goals. People at work do not have to be friends, but they do need to be professional, and are in fact paid to be so.
3. Teams do not need to share everything.
If you wish to address an issue with one person, never be tempted to take them to task openly. Everyone deserves respect and should be treated accordingly. Always tackle a behaviour or performance issue in private, away from the rest of the team. Teams cannot always get along but every member should make an attempt at being professional and this can be noted through their regular one-to-one meetings or appraisals. Being professional is about behaviour, and behaviour can be measured against set targets and monitored regularly. This is not about being heavy handed or a tyrant but it is about noticing what is actually going on in the team and being able to put in preventative measures should you notice things going awry. Should you need additional help with conflict resolution, many organisations now either employ or have access to occupational health consultants who are able to come into your working environment and work directly with your team or suggest changes that could be made.
How many times has the argument been less about the work and more about who sat in someone’s chair and – worse – adjusted the settings!
When we select team members we want a good mix of skills, knowledge and attitude, however most recruitment processes look at the two former attributes and perform very little testing on the latter. The consequence of this is that we have teams who should be great performers and cover every angle of a project plan, but actually don’t get on or display any attempt at trying. This is not as unusual as you might think. Consider TV dramas, the stories are less about the facts – they are more about people.
Writers deliberately put two police officers together who don’t see eye to eye, or they plunge a doctor who is poor at communication into a situation where communication is the most vital skill. It is within this tension that we see real characters emerge and, let’s be honest, when we watch TV dramas we all see living, breathing colleagues reflected in these situations. This is because it actually happens. How many times has the argument been less about the work and more about who sat in someone’s chair and – worse – adjusted the settings!
Conflict? Balance is needed in all teams
Seemingly petty issues will arise and you will need to keep some semblance of order, if only to ensure the work actually does get done. However, not all teams are full of ‘characters’, some seemingly exist in perpetual harmony. Is this what we should be aiming for? Not necessarily. Balance is needed in all teams. The danger with too much harmony is that no one is asking the challenging questions. A team of ‘Yes’ people will still be nodding their approval as they drive off the edge of the cliff! What you need is a balance of different types of people who have a spread of skills.
At this point you may be excused for thinking, ‘Well, it’s OK if I can select my dream team for balance on all levels, but I inherited my people. They were not chosen so much as handed over.’ Actually, this is not as problematic as you may have thought. If it is any consolation, even ‘designer’ teams have problems because people change. As a result of things happening in our lives none of us are the people we were last week. I may have felt pretty calm yesterday but stressed up to my eyeballs today. Envying a ‘designer’ team is a hollow emotion. Think about the team you have. If they are problematic, at least you know about it.
You know the characters and the more they perform to type the more you can make assumptions about their reactions. When you know where the likely problem areas are, you can begin to create strategies to deal with them. Now you are seeing the team for what they are, a varied group who have a wide number of talents, albeit in different areas. Their talents need bringing out and acknowledging. Everyone has something to give to the team or an effect upon it. For example, even the quietest person may have a calming effect when there is conflict. Accept that they will have conflicting ideas and upset each other with their different ways of operating. You will need all your higher level skills to work with them – life is nothing if not a challenge – and anyone who does not like people has no business managing teams.
Think also about your own style and balance. You must treat everyone equally. This does not necessarily mean that people should always be handled in the same way, but they must have equal treatment and opportunities. The way in which you handle the team will have far more effect on them than you realise and your balanced approach will help to stabilise the team. Imagine if your parents treated you and your brothers or sisters completely differently, even using a different set of rewards or punishments. You would feel aggrieved and unsettled. You just might kick out about the unfairness of the system and cause more aggravation because of it. This is how team members will react if you do not get your own balancing act right. You might just be guilty of causing some of the terrible situations you think you are working to avoid.
Look either at the team you are in or one you are managing. Write down a list of everything that is wrong with the team or any ways you feel the team is not functioning, for example, ‘People don’t seem to talk to each other.’ Now imagine that all these things are positive attributes and the team has been put together for these very reasons. What are the benefits of this behaviour? Using the example given, ‘People don’t seem to talk to each other’ you might decide:
- everyone stays very focused
- perhaps there is not a need for cross-information
- they don’t appear to need constant direction
- they are all specialists who benefit from working alone, etc.
Now that these negative comments have been turned into positive comments you will see that the way things are can bring some benefits; you just have not been seeing them.
You may still want to make some changes. However, bear in mind that change is easier to implement if you acknowledge to everyone that there are some positives in what they are currently doing, but that you now need to tweak this to accommodate new ways of working. It is easier for the team to change if they are not told that their behaviour is untenable, poor, difficult, unhelpful – or any of the other negatives you may have used in the past.
There are many training courses on Conflict Resolution (or independent facilitators) that will help you (and the team) work through major issues. Help is never far away and as you grow in skills, you will grow in confidence. Here at Sussex Bussiness School, we offer a wide range of accredited Leadership courses a couple of them listed below that deal with Conflict Resolution: