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Don’t Just Manage Conflict – Prevent it in the First Place!

I was canvassing a number of team managers recently asking them for their opinions on what sort of training they felt their teams needed. Almost to a person they highlighted that training in conflict resolution would be potentially beneficial. When I probed a bit further as to what they felt was causing the conflict the reasons were numerous.

· Lack of understanding around their roles and responsibilities.

· Friction between the manager and team members.

· Confusion over measurement of their objectives.

· Lack of reward and recognition for their efforts.

· Perceived lack of support and resources.

· Lack of trust between manager and team and between team members themselves.

· Inability to handle stress and pressure.

· Lack of support to develop skills and knowledge.

· Inability to handle change effectively.

· Personality clashes.

Now there are various very tangible sources of conflict like a lack of proper resources, training, and reward and recognition schemes but it got me thinking that if more attention was paid to the essential basics of team performance, then perhaps a lot of the conflict would not occur in the first place. However, it is quite sad that too many teams simply dive straight into task without paying close attention to the very basic team performance principles that will underpin and define their future performance. All teams need to pay close attention to the following areas in order to get quickly and with as less pain as possible, through the recognised team development stages.

1. The first step is to ensure the team defines its specific purpose. What is the team’s reason for being? Why have they been brought together?

2. What are the team’s specific aims and goals? What, is it, they are being specifically tasked to achieve and by when? Team members need 100% clarity on this before progressing.

3. Does everyone know specifically what their specific role is within the team? What are their responsibilities and what are the specific objectives that underpin their responsibilities? Do they have clarity of what they have to achieve, how they are going to achieve their objectives and are they clear on the timescales that they have to achieve these responsibilities by? Does everybody have a full understanding of everyone else’s role and responsibilities in the team?

4. Has the team had the opportunity to sit down together (whether physically or virtually) to really discuss how they will create the degree of ‘psychological safety’ needed for the team to function properly. The easiest way to do this is simply to have an open and crucial conversation around what each team member needs to experience in terms of the displayed behaviours and attitudes necessary for them to be motivated and productive. Once all members have had this opportunity then a collated list of desired behaviours and attitudes can be collated into the team contract or charter. An open conversation around team member expectations should also be held. What does the team manager expect of the team in terms of behaviours, attitudes, and standards? Similarly, what do the team members expect of the team manager. Once these have been agreed, build them into your team contract.

These aspects are the very basic core of team performance and with no or very little discussion and agreement around these basics then is it a wonder why conflict can occur later down the line?

There are other interventions that the team manager can put in place to minimise potential future conflict and build skills, knowledge, and awareness at the same time.

· Make sure all the Personality Styles of the individual team members are identified. This will raise awareness of preferred behaviours and identify possible ‘clashes’ which can be easily managed.

· Ensure that Strengths profiling is also done. By identifying specific strengths within individuals then the creation of project groups can be more effectively done in respect to project group membership.

· Have a team discussion on reward and recognition processes within the team in order that the team has the right incentives in place.

· Run a stakeholder identification exercise and build a stakeholder map and engagement plan so that the right support for the team is in place.

· Create a Team Development Plan so that the team learn new skills and improve their knowledge together and at the same time, increase the effectiveness and productivity of the team.

This may appear as a lot to consider and do, especially when the team have a multitude of tasks to get started on, but these are essential basics that have to be considered. Ignoring these can often result in major team conflict later down the line. If you make sure you have the crucial conversations around purpose, goals, roles & responsibilities along with exploring and highlighting needs and expectations then you will get off to a great start.

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