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Don't Fear Conflict, Manage It 

Ask The Expert

Q: There’s a lot of conflict on one of the teams I manage. What can I do to help them work through their differences so they can be more productive?

A: Team conflicts can stem from differing viewpoints on the same issue or from personality clashes or turf struggles. As a team leader or manager, your role is to create a safe place where the issues that divide a team can be resolved. Team members must trust you and each other in order to be successful and productive. And don’t forget that sometimes conflict can be positive.

You don’t want everyone to think the same way or to agree just to make others happy.  As your team comes together, you want them to bring up different points of view. Those differences can create conflict, but, if managed well, conflict often sparks innovation and can make the team stronger as they work through conflicting issues. 

Your role is to do several things:

  • Select the appropriate people for each team, and let them know why they were selected.
  • Share the vision for the team’s project and explain why they are working together.
  • Give clear expectations as to how you will be involved and how success will be measured.
  • Get to know each team member and his or her strengths.
  • Treat each team member with respect.
  • Communicate often—listen to your team and share your expertise.
  • Encourage new ideas.
  • Acknowledge cultural differences, and value each person individually.
  • When conflicts come up, focus on the problem and not on the person.
  • Celebrate successes and give credit where it is due. Don’t take the credit yourself for something the team did.

You don’t want everyone to think the same way or agree just to make others happy. You want team members to bring up different points of view.

Conflict is not the sign of a mismanaged team. It’s a reality of people working together. When conflict does arise, bring it to the surface in a nonthreatening manner and ask team members to identify the issues that are causing friction.

When teams routinely handle conflict in this way, odds are they will be comfortable the next time an issue comes up. Remember, fear of conflict can derail a team.

Barbara Mitchell is a human resources and management consultant and author of The Big Book of HR. Do you have a question you’d like her to answer in “Ask the Expert”? Send it to [email protected].

Performance Management