An Alternative Approach to Dealing with the Inevitable Team Conflict
“The way a team plays as a whole determines its success. You may have the greatest bunch of individual stars in the world, but if they don’t play together, the club won’t be worth a dime.”—Babe Ruth
Among the many critical project success factors—detailed plans, accurate estimates, and clear communication—a strong, unified team is arguably one of the most important. Without it, conflict prevails that—if left unchecked—can derail your projects.
Understanding the importance of a unified team, today project leaders focus heavily on building the right teams—ones consisting of members who not only have strong complementary skills but also work well with others. But, even among the strongest of teams, conflict is inevitable.
The Inevitability of Conflict
Conflict is part of being a human. Strong personalities do often clash; people come from different backgrounds and have different values. Combine these personality nuances and other differences together, and you have the perfect recipe for success—and conflict.
When conflict inevitably occurs, how do you deal with it?
Dealing with Conflict: Do You Really Need a Plan?
In a perfect world, every conflict would be the same and easy to deal with. People would react the same to every situation and even feel the same. You’d know all the variables, have one plan, and understand exactly what to do. Each and every time.
However, human emotion is a variable that’s hard to control. You cannot predict with certainty how people will feel or even react, making it even harder to determine how they’ll work together.
With conflict potentially being so varied and unique, is it really worth having a plan to manage it?
Sure, you could create “X” number of steps you follow to deal with it and adapt those to every situation, starting with the most obvious: Identifying the cause of the conflict.
From there, you could call a meeting for those involved and encourage them to listen to one another’s problems in the hopes they find a compromise. Even then there are no guarantees, and you’ll likely have to find a mediator.
The above is certainly a viable approach that many project leaders use, but I’d like to propose a different one.
An Alternative Approach to Handling Conflict: Don’t Manage It
Two years ago, while building my business, I was part of an accountability group with three other people. We met weekly to not only hold each other accountable to our goals but also to share ideas.
Seeing as we would spend much time together and maybe even jointly work on future projects, my friend suggested we take personality tests to understand our behaviors and analyze team dynamics.
She introduced us to Shadowmatch, an online behavioral mapping system used by companies, coaches, psychometrists, and psychologists to recruit precisely, to understand the unique behavior of an individual, and to develop people, team analyses, team onboarding, and team building.
Indeed, it was the team-onboarding, team-analysis, and team-building features that were particularly useful. After completing the tests, Shadowmatch mapped our results on a graph for comparison. The platform pinpointed
- our individual strengths and weaknesses,
- overlaps (similarities) in these strengths and weaknesses,
- certain behaviors all of us closely exhibited, and
- those of us who showed vastly different behaviors.
Each of us could access the results to view the team dynamics. By analyzing the comparisons, we could identify potential conflict points from the start. This identification, in turn, meant that we were better equipped to deal with any conflict because we understood the reasons for it.
The Many Benefits of Members Understanding Team Dynamics
You certainly don’t have to use a tool like Shadowmatch, but if members in your team better understand their own behaviors and those of others, they too will be empowered to tackle conflict themselves, without your involvement.
You and your team will benefit from the above approach in many ways:
- Behavioral mapping can help you better structure your team from the start. For example, you can identify members who aren’t a good fit and assign them elsewhere.
- You will spend less time managing your team, meaning you have more time for other essential project tasks.
- Members will get to know themselves better and understand why they do what they do.
- Members will learn to deal with conflict in a constructive way. You’ll probably find that those members who continuously clash will begin to laugh about it as they learn to celebrate and appreciate their differences.
The Bottom Line
Team conflict will always remain inevitable, but managing it doesn’t have to be. Empower your team by giving them the tools and means to handle conflict themselves, and you’ll both benefit. You will spend less time managing and more time leading, and your team will learn that their individual differences are actually the biggest strength of all.