Let’s face it: most teams in the workplace are dysfunctional. Worse, only a few ever fix their problems and become productive. The biggest issue? We can’t handle conflict. Here are the 3 most common ways conflict shows up – or doesn’t – and what to do about it.
Which sounds like your team?
Problem #1: No Conflict at All
Some teams just don’t have any conflict at all. Yes, that is a problem, too. Why no conflict? Maybe all team members are perfectly aligned. Or maybe they don’t like to rock the boat. If this is the case, the team’s learning curve is very flat. There is little creativity in a team without diversity of thought. Worse, there is dangerously little awareness and mitigation of risk.
What to do: If you’re not having conflict, give yourself a shake. Find something to broaden and deepen the discussion. You’re missing something – time to find out what it is before it bites you.
Problem #2: Hidden, Unproductive Conflict
In this case, there is conflict; it’s just hidden. Heads nod and people agree, in the room. Then, offline, the conflict emerges. Perhaps it is a single individual who quietly shirks his commitments and fails to take action. Maybe multiple team members are involved in gossip or backstabbing. Sometimes the team leader is even complicit, allowing team members to use offline discussions and back channels to revisit decisions that have already been made.
What to do: If your team is engaged in passive-aggressive behavior, get the conflict on the agenda. Give the legitimate dissent a place to surface.
Problem #3: Ugly Conflict
Conflict can also be personal, emotional, and destructive. This type of conflict is born of passion, but unbridled passion with little self-awareness or self-control. At least it’s on the table, right?
Wrong. This type of conflict creates amygdala hijack behavior. Reactions to it can be very primal. Half the team is yelling and pounding tables (the “fight” side) while the other half is pushing away from the table or looking at their smart phones (the “flight” side). Either way, no one is listening and nothing productive is happening.
If your team engages in destructive conflict, try assigning a rotating Chair for the meeting. Use small-group breakout discussions to change the tone. Do something to refocus on the issues.
In my next post: how to embrace conflict.