5 Ways To Deal With Conflict In A Team

If you are a part of a team, there is a strong chance that you’ve witnessed or even experienced conflict in your team. Whenever there are differences in opinions, disagreements are going to occur. Conflict in a team can be a good thing however, if it is not handled well, it can have some serious negative consequences for a team.

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Having been a member of teams and also managed and led teams in organizations and in sports, I have learned some lessons that can be used within any team. Here are five simple ways to deal with conflict that will allow any team to transform any conflict into an opportunity for the betterment of a team.

  1. Whenever conflict arises, welcome it. Changing how we see conflict is the first step. It is a mindset shift that will automatically make us look the opportunity in any conflict. In his book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni suggests Fear of Confrontation as one of the dysfunctions in teams. He states that whenever team members do not trust each other, they are reluctant to confront each other so they hide what they really think about a situation or suggestion.

    Instead of viewing conflict as a problem that needs to be resolved, what would work better is for team members to accept that conflict is in fact good for the team, if they are open, honest and directed towards achieving an outcome.

  2. Acknowledge the conflict or differences in perspectives. Conflict is a sign that team members care, and are passionate and engaged in what they team is striving to achieve. A good leader should call out the disagreements for what they are and encourage a healthy debate that is respectful and without any personal attacks. Once team members witness that no one has been reprimanded or disciplined, they will be more likely to raise issues in the future.
  3. Always keep coming back to the team objective. Where conflict can become disruptive or a detriment to a team is if team members raise issues to meet their personal agendas. Having a clear team vision, goals and objectives becomes important to have in order to build a strong, cohesive team. When discussions start to get off track, the team leader can always bring it back to, “What are we, as a team, trying to achieve here?” Focusing on the big picture and the overall direction of the team will determine how the conflict is transformed into an opportunity.
  4. Be okay with disagreements. Not all conflicts need to be resolved to the satisfaction of team members. Sometimes it is okay for team members to disagree. Knowing when to quit will help a team move forward. If there is a strong level of trust in a team, a conflict can be put to rest simply with a “we agree to disagree” acknowledgement. For example, in sports, a player may disagree with what their coach wants them to do, but will be willing to move on for the benefit of the team.
  5. Give ownership to those involved in the conflict. A simple tactic a leader can use is to put the responsibility of transforming the conflict back onto the team members having the conflict. This can be done by asking a question such as, “If you were leading this team, how would you deal with the conflict you are currently facing that would ultimately benefit our team?”

    While there is the risk that a team member will want to resolve the conflict only for their personal gain, if there is a high level of trust already within the team, then there is a high chance that they will do what is ultimately best for the team.

Conflict should be viewed as a sign of a healthy, highly functional team. Rather than seeing every conflict as something to be managed or resolved quickly, conflict should be treated as an opportunity for a team to elevate their performance and work towards a common goal.

For more ideas on how to build teams that are engaged, cohesive and high-performing teams, check out my #1 bestselling book, Building High-Performing Teams.

Question: What are some other ways to deal with conflict in a team?

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  • Jane Ransom

    Wonderful post, Neel! Agree with every word. Great points to always keep in mind. Thanks!

    • Neel Raman

      Thank you Jane for your comment. While there may be many other ways to deal with conflict in teams, these simple steps seem to work best initially. Thanks again.