Managing team conflicts

By Kelvin LimAug 31, 2015

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Conflicts are unavoidable in any group setting. One of the most important things that good managers and leaders need to learn how to do is how to manage conflicts in such a way that you can direct the destructive force into a creative one.

How can leaders handle hostility between team members?

First and foremost, leaders need to look at the team’s group objective. They also need to know each member’s:
(a) role in the team,
(b) contributions and
(c) what they think can get out of their efforts, so that there is a reason for them to be there. 

If there are people who clash, then obviously one of the things mentioned above has gone awry. 

1. If one or more of them are not in line with the team’s objectivethen the leader or the group has to decide on it. Goals need to be realigned, and leaders may even need to assess whether the objectives meet their member’s intentions in the first place.

If all team members are agreeable to aligning with a bigger picture, it gives cause for them to stop their conflict.

If one of them is in line with the team’s objective, while another isn’t, and there is a conflict that arises because of that, then the person who is not in alignment with the team objective needs to be spoken to, retrained or counselled. If that person is still unsuitable for the role, then they will need to be replaced. 

You cannot have a team with a dissident factor in it — not necessarily a critic, but someone who is not intentionally working towards the group objective. 

2. If both people are in conflict because of contributions (i.e. talents and/or roles are being duplicated), there is a lack of space for both to exist, which results in a ‘fight’ for that position.

In that case, the leader has to look into expanding the scope or objectives for that role. If there isn’t enough work for 2 people to do to co-exist, then one of them would have to be dropped.

3. If it is a matter of a conflict of reward, whereby one person perceives that s/he doesn’t feel that what they receive is fair or they feel they deserve more than another person in the team, there needs to be a reassessment of where the problem arises from. It comes from either:

(a) a setup problem (e.g. an unclear reward system), such that there is a reason for them to be upset or jealous, or

(b) an individual issue, where members make comparisons with others and feel they deserve more, whether realistically or not

4. If it is a clash of values, sales, ideas or dominance, these issues are relatively easy to fix. The leader can come in and find a way to match those values to the greater objective and/or find a place for the different conflicts to exist side-by-side. 

For instance, if there are 2 dominant personalities, one of them has to agree to take on that role while the other has to give way in order to meet the greater objective.

Of course, conflicts exist all the time. People either bring the conflict out into the open, or they are covertly hostile to each other and thereby sabotage the efforts of the entire team.

Managers need to be able to discourage such behaviours and/or eliminate them if they want to get the group to function properly, or else energy will be wasted on ‘cloak-and-dagger’ games and the objective will never be reached.

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Kelvin Lim is Southeast Asia’s first Master Coach and the Founder and Principal Coach of Executive Coach International, the largest Coaching organisation in Singapore. A professional coach since 1997, Kelvin has worked with over 20,000 people in China, Singapore and Internationally. He is also one of the Executive Producers of the Coaching movie, the first-ever international film about Coaching.