The peculiar feature of work teams is that these people did not get together because they wanted to.
Instead, team members were handpicked from crowds of candidates by HRs to match the set of requirements a company has, and now this group of strangers has to find ways to cooperate and get the work done without killing each other first. Well, this description is a bit extreme and dramatic, but the essence of the matter is just like that: randomly chosen people have to communicate daily, maintain civility if not friendship, and collaborate on the tasks they were given.
If you as a manager look at your team in such a way, you will understand that actually, you have fewer conflicts at your hands than one would expect to have. In general, people tend to cooperate and maintain positive relations with others. That’s a good piece of news.
A bad piece of news is that when you have a conflict in a team, you cannot expect it to dissolve or get quietly settled by team members. These people are not close friends, neither do they expect that the troubles in the workplace will become their own. It is a sure way to lose the most valuable members and see the team fall apart. For this reason, you need to have basic skills of conflict detection and management, get some experience of this kind through a conflict management workshop, and in general, be ready to interfere early.
Wisdom of prevention
When the conflict is still in the bud, it is easier to settle it and let everyone get to work feeling safe and valued. The visible signs of a clash may be absent, but the behavior of your team may let you know something is going wrong. It means that you have to know your team and its members and pay attention not only to their work results but to their personalities as well. Here are the signs of hidden trouble to watch out for:
- people tend to flock in small groups and avoid other groups (so-called cliques);
- a drastic change in tone of voice and body language (quietness, spite, resentment, crossed hands, avoiding others);
- the productivity falls – of a whole team or individual people.
What to do if this is already happening? First of all, do not pretend that everything is fine. Step in and ask. If no response follows, mention that you will have to talk to everyone individually. People should know that you will get involved and do something about the situation.
While testing the waters, be patient, fair and do not jump to conclusions before you hearing anything.
The chances are that those who feel offended will approach you, and you’ll know where to start. If not, it means that the conflict is rather serious, and more efforts will be required to settle it.
What to do when the conflict is in full swing
Basically, there is a universal algorithm for dealing with conflicts, and you can use it to deal with trouble at work just as you can apply it to interpersonal problems.
- Do private talking. Before you pull the conflict into the public view, talk to all parties involved privately, face-to-face. Maybe, this step alone will help to erase the conflict for good.
- Do an all-team talk. Find a safe place, reserve the time and gather all parties at the round table, so to say. Here, everyone will voice their concerns, but with some conditions.
- Listen and make everyone listen to each other. Everyone present has to speak. If someone tries to bully others, keep that person in check (a tip: this person may be the main troublemaker in the team, so think about what to do about it). Listen to what people say, not to your thoughts or assumptions.
- Draw a plan and include the input of all members. You may have the ready plan, but change it along the way to include suggestions of the team.
- Check if the plan is implemented as agreed. The best plan is nothing if no one is complying with it. Follow its implementation and ask all parties if everything goes like planned.