On any team there is going to be areas of disagreement. Some level of healthy conflict is not just desirable but actually extremely helpful in keeping team performance high. At the same time when conflict becomes destructive or gets in the way of progress it has an adverse effect.
So what can leaders and managers do in order to overcome team conflict?
- Keep the team focus on clear operational goals and expectations, professional conversation and discussion about differences in relation to these goals.
- Keep team numbers low, e.g. seven. Belbin suggests senior teams work best with 6, 7 or 5 members for example.
- Hold regular team meetings where process issues and differences as well as operational issues are brought into the open.
- Enable social interaction as well as operational interaction.
- Recognise and celebrate team successes.
- Keep involved, especially if attempting to ensure an innovation becomes the norm of new behaviour: ‘close the loop’ by paying attention to the change process and ensuring leadership throughout.
- Ensure team members understand each other’s preferred team roles and if the team roles are out of balance, that for the sake of the team goals individuals can also move into roles that are not their individually preferred roles.
- Support, encourage and reward mutual respect for all individuals within the team as well as the team itself.
- Pre-empt conflict over work issues such as discipline by ensuring people know ground rules in advance; be consistent and follow correct procedure in dealing with infringement.
- Be aware if team conflict is engendered because of conflict within the organisation. The culture ‘what we do around here’ affects everyone.
- Make clear your mission and vision statements, keep clear values, open communications, and demonstrate and insist on ethical behaviour to help avoid or reduce organisational conflict.
- Take seriously and deal with workplace bullying and harassment.
- Do what you said you’d do, be consistent, be honest, be trustworthy and give trust, walk your talk. Don’t’ talk what you won’t in fact walk!
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