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What to do when the team quarrels? That is, about resolving conflicts in the team

Agatha Knapek
June 5, 2024
Although unpleasant - they can be developmental. It is not uncommon for them to be the driving force behind major changes that lead to improvements not only in the atmosphere in the company, but above all in the efficiency of its operation. Conflicts in the team, which many managers would bypass by a wide arc, paradoxically can be valuable for business - if only we can manage them properly.

Conflicts in a team are a natural part of teamwork. However, they require the right approach so that they do not become an obstacle on the way to achieving the goals of the company. Although conflicts may seem unpleasant, it is worth remembering that they are also a source of development - they can drive constructive change, if only we can manage it well. Below are some tips to help you understand the different types of conflicts that can occur in the workplace, how to recognize situations that require intervention, as well as how to solve these problems effectively

The most common types of conflicts:

Conflict of values: This type of conflict arises from differences in beliefs or values between two or more parties. This can be about things like ethical standards, the mission of the company, or attitude towards specific behaviors. For example, if one team believes that lead time is the most important thing, while another team considers quality of work to be a priority, this can lead to conflicts.

Undefined responsibilities/scopes: If duties and responsibilities are not clearly defined, employees can run into conflicts. This can lead to conflicts over workload, unfair distribution of tasks, or domain violations.
In these situations, conflict often stems from the feeling that one person is doing more work than others, or that someone is entering “her lot.” Likewise, it is in situations where decision-making in the team is underdefined and it is not known who should make the decision or several people would like to do so.

Conflicts of interest between departments: These conflicts often arise from competition for resources such as time, money or materials. Different departments may have different goals that are mutually exclusive. For example, the sales department may want to lower prices to increase sales, while the finance department may want to raise them to increase the profit margin.

Personality conflict: It is one of the most difficult conflicts to manage, as it arises from fundamental differences in personalities and work styles. It can relate to differences in communication styles or ways of making decisions, for example: speed of information processing, different emotional needs, different ways of building and functioning in relationships.

Status conflicts: In every organization that develops, there is a growing number of interest groups that want to have a greater impact on the shape of the organization. Their appearance is a natural factor that occurs in any organization. This can be due to different visions of how the organization is perceived, as well as the increasing pace of change in the organization. Often such conflicts arise when one employee feels that they are not properly appreciated or when there is competition for positions, promotions, or status in the organization.

When is it time to intervene?

Assuming that our team is not made up of toxic or pathologically immature people, most conflicts can be resolved directly between the parties and do not require the intervention of the boss or HR. Intervention should only occur when the conflict becomes severe enough to negatively affect productivity, the atmosphere in the whole team or customer satisfaction.

If we are the manager of the team in which the conflict was born, we should take action immediately when we see that the conflict negatively affects the work of the team. This can include situations in which conflict hinders communication, leads to a decrease in motivation and commitment, or affects the quality of the work performed. The first step is to identify the source of the conflict and take steps to eliminate it. This could be for example one-on-one conversations with the parties involved, mediation between the parties, or making decisions designed to minimize tensions.

If we are not able to manage the situation effectively or the case concerns violations of company policies, discrimination, harassment, we should involve the HR department.

HR experts have (or at least should have) specialist knowledge of procedures, regulations and best practices related to conflict resolution and can take further steps, such as mediation led by an external professional (often such a mediator can be a person from HR), training in communication skills or even disciplinary action against employees.

Steps we should take after recognizing the conflict:

1. Identifying the source of the conflict

2. Resolution of the conflict by the manager (removal of the source of the conflict)

3. In more difficult cases - refer to the HR department for support

4. HR intervention

How to resolve conflicts?

Regardless of whether conflict resolution is handled by a team leader or an HR person (from within or outside the organization), conflict resolution always takes place on several levels:

Recognizing that the problem actually exists: The first step to resolving a conflict is recognizing that the problem exists. This requires open communication and a willingness to listen to all parties. Do not ignore the signals of conflict - altered communication patterns, decreased productivity, or tensions in the team may indicate a problem. As managers, we need to be alert and ready to talk to the team.

Understanding the problem: Then, it is necessary to understand the nature of the conflict. Is it a conflict of values? Is it related to undefined responsibilities? Is it due to a conflict of interest between departments? Gather information through one-on-one conversations
with the parties involved to understand their points of view and feelings. Remember that at this stage your role is to gather information and observe, not generate solutions.

Mediation: The mediator (manager, HR) helps the parties to the conflict talk about the problem, express their feelings and needs, and then jointly look for solutions. Create a safe
and a neutral environment for the conversation, in which each of the parties will be able to express their thoughts and feelings without fear of consequences.

Generation and evaluation of solutions: After understanding the problem, ask the parties to the conflict to generate possible solutions. Analyze these proposals and evaluate together their reality and effectiveness. Be sure to look for solutions that are beneficial to both parties and help restore an orderly atmosphere and harmony in the team.

Implementation and monitoring of the solution: After choosing the optimal solution, start implementing them. This may include changes in the structure of the organization, clarification of responsibilities and expectations, or mediation to understand and respect different values. Monitor the situation to ensure that the solution is effective and does not cause new conflicts.

Situation review and study: After resolving the conflict, conduct a review of the situation. What did this experience teach you? What could have been done differently? Use these conclusions to improve your conflict management skills and prevent similar situations
in the future.

Remember that the process of conflict resolution takes time, patience and openness. Listening to both sides, learning human behavior, and adapting to emotionally challenging situations is essential in order to manage conflict effectively.

Diagnosis of “toxin” in the organization

Sometimes conflict can arise from the behavior of one person. There are certain characteristic behaviors that may indicate that an employee will be more likely to enter into conflicts and behave in a toxic way:

  • Complaining and pessimism: Does anyone in the team constantly complain about others, about working conditions, about the management? Does this person always look at things from a pessimistic point of view, instead of looking for solutions and opportunities for improvement?
  • Spreading rumors and creating divisions: Spreading gossip or spreading discontent among the team is one of the toxic behaviors. It is possible that you will notice that a person often speaks negatively about others behind their back, which creates tensions and divisions.
  • Not taking responsibility for your behavior/consequences: Does someone on the team constantly blame others for their mistakes or failures? Lack of responsibility and a tendency to place blame on others are often seen in people who behave in toxic ways.
  • Generating Conflicts Regularly: Do you notice that conflicts seem to revolve around the behavior of the same person all the time? If so, then this may indicate that this person's behavior is a source of conflict.

Toxic behaviors can lead to an unhealthy atmosphere in the team, a drop in morale and productivity. The costs associated with maintaining an employee who behaves toxicly can be significant, both in the financial context and in the organizational culture, for example: they can lead to increased turnover. If training, mediation or other attempts to improve the situation do not bring results, the dismissal of such a person may be necessary.

Of course, the decision to dismiss should be made after careful analysis, taking into account all available options and consequences. Let's make sure that different management and support strategies have been tested before we make a final decision. However, in our experience, it is better to slow down sooner rather than later. As a rule, the first warning signals turn out to be appropriate. In case of doubt, it is worth consulting with our internal HR manager or external expert.

Conflicts are inherent in teamwork, but with proper management they can be turned into a driving force for our team. Regardless of whether this leads us to develop social competence or to part with the employee - paradoxically also in the latter situation, both parties benefit in the long run.

The key to effective conflict management is open communication, empathy, and a willingness to compromise. Sometimes, however, conflicts can arise from the presence of toxic behaviors. Understanding the characteristics of such behavior and taking appropriate action is key to maintaining a healthy work environment. Remember that you are here to help your team succeed — and that means not just resolving emerging conflicts, but building a consistent, daily atmosphere of collaboration and mutual respect.

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