Photo Ian Barker

As soon as we interact, the risk exist not to understand one another. To oppose. Of course, when a conflict arises, it means that team members have been in a position to express themselves: it is already a good thing. A complete lack of conflict in a team could be a sign that not everyone can speak or that the team is constrained. Disagreements are inevitable. In that way, conflicts show a certain maturity level in a collective. They might as well be openly expressed, otherwise they might undermine the team’s work. Identified disagreements can be handled. Non-identified disagreements may ruin the team’s collaboration with no end in sight.

You and your team have tried to avoid it, you are concerned with its impact on your collective and reputation. And yet it is here: a conflict has emerged. How to resolve it?

Points of view: four key factors to resolve a conflict in your team

Not everyone reacts in the same way when a conflict emerges: it can be experienced as a safe space for team members to express themselves, or as a painful moment. A disagreement means that several ideas co-exist and seem incompatible. Collaborative practices have often helped me guide clients to clarify the clash and realize that it was just a misunderstanding after all! If a clarification confirms that there is a true disagreement on principles or priorities, four key factors will help you out.

Key factor #1:

Each proposition deserves to be acknowledged et expressed. Each stakeholder needs to feel heard.

Key factor #2:

The situation gives the team an opportunity to practice “changing eyeglasses” or “stepping into someone else’s shoes.” I often guide teams in a exercise where they have to argue in favor or against an idea, no matter what they really stand for. Arguing the exact opposite view tends to start with a few funny statements but in the end it creates new viewpoints and deep realizations.

Key factor #3:

By growing and trusting, the team can ask themselves what lies under their opposing views. Oftentimes they reflect shared motivations such as mid- or long-term success, protecting a team member or living their values.

Key factor #4:

The solution lies in agreeing on the best way to accomplish what needs to be accomplished. Maybe the conflict will be resolved by agreeing on of the suggested solutions rather than the other–consensus is not necessarily the best option. What matters here is that the choice serves the team’s objective. It shouldn’t aim at imposing someone’s view or domination.

A practical example to solve a conflict in a team

I am creating a case based on several experiences with clients: there are two different profiles in the team. Each has a specific role, expertise, pace. And yet if they form a team, it’s because the two profiles need each other. At a certain point a difference becomes a conflict during a project. Both parties close in on themselves. They talk less and less and then not at all –after a while part of the team moves to another space as the department is transitioning to a new floor. The two profiles end up working in two different places!

Meaning is what helped solve the conflict. Individual interviews showed me how the team member had experienced the shift: let’s focus on the collective steps.

First step: the team explored its craft and its market, the changes in its ecosystem, and what they achieve as a team. At this stage the conflict is not the point. People and teams experience a different way to coexist and to collaborate. Playing, fun, appreciation and celebration make that step more relevant and helps the other steps.

Second step: the team sets or resets its “rules of the game”: its principles to work together. The topics tend to be the same from one team to the other. What matters here is the choice and the wording, they reflect the team’s identity. Saying “respect” or “trust” is not enough, and yet they will never  become a reality if they are not said as much as they are experienced.

Third step: reconnect the team’s actions to its reason for being, purpose or mission. It can create the opportunity to craft or revisit the team’s purpose. Stepping back will also help with the situation at hand. Changing where people are changes what they see, and creates meaningful conversations. The team’s values are connected to its reason for being: in that step the team can also select or revisits its values in a practical way.

Forth step: explore each team member’s motivations and start reconnecting them with the team’s ambitions with practical topics, including the topic where the conflict emerged. It is the right moment to investigate on the various contributions and expectations in the team (especially when different profiles co-exist.) At this stage the team experiments with collaborative pratices in order to bring them to their every day work.

Conflicts may reflect and nurture the team’s maturity. Stepping back and reconnection with its mission will bring the team to overcome its deadlocks.

Co-Dynamics provides organizations with methods and tools to give meaning to action and foster effective collaboration. Dialogue and experience in your team will solve conflicts!