Teaming Up: Group Dynamics & Managing Conflict

To accomplish great things, we need to work together. Teamwork is essential not only in the workplace, but in other areas of life as well. As we continue to explore teams and groups in this month’s series, let’s look at one of the biggest obstacles facing teams: Conflict. In fact, conflict and negative group dynamics can be more harmful to your project than other forces such as a lack of resources, time or even money. There’s a lot involved with developing a successful team, so let’s take a closer look and learn more about how to keep your team strong and effectively manage conflict.

Common causes of workplace conflict

Whenever you put a group of people together to work on a project, there is bound to be a few clashes. After all, we’re all very different individuals, with our own ideas, interests, goals and beliefs. Before your next project comes to a screeching halt over tensions or conflict, let’s look at what causes it in the first place:

  1. Communication…or should we say, a lack of good communication. Whether it’s dealing with communication barriers and the many ways we don’t convey the right message to one another, or perhaps it’s a lack of information or wrong information…conflict and confusion can arise quickly when people just don’t understand what’s going on.
  2. Toxic work environment – this covers a broad range of workplace issues such as sabotaging others, resentment/feeling undervalued, bullying/harassment, extreme stress, unsafe workplace, and so on. Tensions build quickly in these environments and need strong management to recognize and resolve these issues.
  3. Personality clashes – Let’s say you put two very strong-willed, opinionated and competitive people together on the same project. Don’t expect things to run smoothly for long, especially if they need to collaborate and share the credit. Some people just don’t work well with others, and although it’s not terribly professional, it’s a common occurrence in many workplaces. This is also true for people who simply work differently from others – some may be morning people, others very shy, and others unorganized or laid back while others are the opposite of that. Let’s face it: People are complicated. It takes great strength of character some days to smile and be polite when you rarely see eye-to-eye with someone.
  4. Poor leadership – When managers turn a blind eye to negative workplace behaviours, act out with aggression, or don’t know how to resolve issues, things can get out of control quickly.
  5. Unrealistic goals – If your project is a little too grand and you just don’t have the time, staff or resources, then your team may feel like they have been set up for failure. This can be alleviated by assessing the project’s needs early on, and continuing to assess progress along the way.

Conflict resolution techniques

Conflict is a healthy way of working through problems, but it needs to be addressed early so it doesn’t bottle up and explode at an uncontrollable level. There may indeed be an occasional glitch along the way with your team, but if you’re armed with a variety of techniques to resolve it, you’ll be back on track sooner than later.

There are 4 key ways to manage conflict, each one dependant on the situation and personalities involved. For more information on each technique, be sure to click on the bold type for a more detailed analysis:

  1. Withdraw/avoid – As the name implies, some conflicts just need to be walked away from and the other party can declare their victory. It just isn’t that important to win in these situations.
  2. Smooth/accommodate – Focus on areas of agreement, rather than differences and find some common ground while obliging the other party. This strategy helps maintain good relationships.
  3. Compromise/reconcile – This is where we start to see real, productive results. When suggestions are listened to and considered by both sides, each party can make some compromises and begin to move forward, but there needs to be mutual respect and trust.
  4. Collaborate/problem solve – This is the ideal technique for managing workplace conflict. While it may take a bit more time and effort, all parties can put aside their emotions and egos, and…working together, come up with a win-win solution that appeases everyone.

Another way to help your team avoid conflict and really thrive is to make sure that every person can equally generate ideas and have their say. Further, make sure the workload is divided fairly and that individual strengths are put to good use. It’s also important to allow for creativity (and taking risks) within the various stages of the project; there are no bad ideas! Make time for fun and your team will instantly have increased morale, leading to increased productivity.

Your team and your project are important, so be sure to put in the effort to work past those obstacles.

“You’ve got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, know when to run.” Kenny Rogers