Crucial to resolving team conflict is preparedness and accepting its inevitability. Try as we might, it is the reality of human nature that not all of us will get on.

If millennia of war and social disharmony have taught us anything it is that where there are humans collaborating and working in a team environment, the emergence of conflict is inevitable.

The inevitability of conflict in teams is why the “team” reality TV show formula is a ratings winner. Take Survivor or My Kitchen Rules, thrusting people into high pressure team situations is a sure-fire means of eliciting intense emotional reactions.

The same goes for the workplace.  It is very rare that we have the opportunity to choose our colleagues, hence the likelihood of disputes arising is high. The high likelihood of conflicts thus solidifies the importance of having effective conflict resolution strategies in place.

resolving team conflicts

It is generally expected that the responsibility of managing team conflicts in the workplace falls to managers and leaders. However, we can all play a part in helping to minimize the disruption that conflict causes.

Choosing the right team

The ultimate tool to mitigate team conflict is choosing the right team. Sure, not always will choosing teams in the workplace be discretionary. In fact, managers may have no say in the matter whatsoever.

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However, this does not mean that the strengths of individual team members cannot be assessed and synergies identified, whereby some colleagues may have more collaborative potential than others.

This is where teams within teams can be created. This notion of teams within teams is crucial in helping to minimize team conflict.

Teams need not be composed of like-minded individuals, a lot of the time a diversity of skills and experience is beneficial to achieve effective outcomes. It is important that we embrace our differences, as differences can prove the biggest asset in a team environment.

Business Chemistry

Deloitte has devised a system of categorizing work styles and personalities called Business Chemistry. As described by the Deloitte team:

Business Chemistry is Deloitte's system for understanding similarities and differences in work styles so we can create stronger working relationships, more effectively tap into team strengths, and accomplish more together.

They identify four key Business Chemistry types:

Drivers

They value challenge and generate momentum. Drivers tend to be:

  • quantitative
  • logical
  • competitive
  • experimental.

Guardians

They value stability and bring order and rigor. Guardians tend to be:

  • reserved
  • practical
  • detail-oriented
  • methodical.

Integrators

They value connection and draw teams together. Working with an Integrator means being in a company with someone who tends to be:

  • diplomatic
  • empathetic
  • relationship-oriented
  • non-confrontational.

Pioneers

They value possibilities and spark creativity and tend to be:

  • outgoing
  • spontaneous
  • adaptable
  • imaginative.

By categorizing team members as one of the above-mentioned Business Chemistry Types,  much better relationships can be established through enhanced communication and understanding.

For example, Guardians are typically more introverted than Pioneers, as such their pairing on projects can prove fruitful for employees. In a Yin and Yang like capacity, the differences between team members can lead to effective outcomes.

Two crucial elements

Trust and Social Sensitivity

Historically, researchers have struggled to identify what makes an effective team. In a 2008 MIT study when teams were given similar tasks, interestingly they proved just as effective despite exhibiting very different behaviors.

However, there were two essential ingredients that all successful teams had, trust and social sensitivity.

Trust is crucial. Trust ensures team members feel comfortable being themselves. It would be worthwhile to pause here on the word comfortable; comfort for team members is what managers in undertaking conflict resolution should be aiming to achieve. This brings us to social sensitivity.

Social sensitivity is the second essential enabler of team members feeling comfortable to express their opinions openly. Conflict, as has already been established, is an inevitability but when the workplace is a comfortable environment of trust and social sensitivity, conflicts prove to be easier to quell.

To see the true necessity of trust and social sensitivity we needn’t look further than Google’s People Operations department. Google in its’ attempt to build the perfect team, hired researchers that ultimately isolated trust and social sensitivity as the essential elements for successful workplaces.

Their isolation of these characteristics was, after months of data analysis. During this analysis the researchers found that the composition of teams doesn’t matter. So long as there is trust and social sensitivity any mix of personality types skills, or backgrounds can lead to effective outcomes.

How to resolve conflict in your workplace

A step by step guide

resolving team conflicts in workplace image

So far, we’ve focused on the elements that enable a team to resolve conflict, the crucial foundations if you will. But what about when you’re in the midst of conflict in the workplace what are the best steps to take?

Depending on your role in the team it may not be up to you, but perhaps you find yourself in a position of authority, what do you do?

Organize a meeting

The grievance needs to be aired in a safe place and team members need to feel comfortable expressing their perspectives on the conflict. Whether all involved colleagues meet together or separately should be discretionary.

Use your instincts to gauge the situation. Would the team members feel more or less comfortable together or separately? Of course, conflict is uncomfortable, but improving how comfortable a team feels throughout the mediation process is essential.

Gather information

To know how to deal with the conflict it is essential that you have all the facts in front you. Your information gathering might involve several more meetings with the involved team members.

Come to an agreement

This part can be surprisingly easy. If team members feel they have had their grievances listened to and they are comfortable with the proposed arrangement of how they will work together going forward, they will likely be very eager to put the conflict behind them.

This willingness to put the conflict behind them emphasizes the importance of the resolution process itself. If empathy and care are shown in the initial stages then finding agreement can be a simple task.

All in all, resolving team conflicts for effective outcomes needn’t be an anxiety inducing task. By following simple steps, conflicts can be resolved seamlessly with as little emotional damage as possible.

About the Author:

Simon Choi is a small business owner of Refractique and Standout Bands in Australia.

He has a background in change management and marketing in organizational consulting. This included providing in-house advice for consulting firms (EY / KPMG) and financial services in Australia. He writes in business and psychology.