Handling conflicts in groups and teams

Handling conflicts in groups and teams

Clip art image of conflictThere seemed to be no avoiding the topic of hadling conflicts yesterday.

First on LinkedIn one of my connections recommended a blog post by Bernard Marr, a LinkedIn INfluencer.  I read it and then continued to the next post: “The Vital But Forgotten Soft Skill of Truly Successful People”.  In it he discusses how a vital skill for leaders is the ability to address and resolve conflicts rather than leaving them to fester.  His five point plan on how to address them is simple to understand (you could summarise it as – Breathe, Acknowledge, Listen, Focus, Respect) but, as he points out, takes a great deal of practice to implement well.

But it was the point made at the end of the blog that struck me most – conflicts can often be opportunities for “learning, innovation and even team building” with issues explored and people helped to listen and understand different views.

This article tied in strongly with another that I read shortly afterwards.  A post on the eFront blog about rewarding users of elearning referenced an article by Clay Shirky “A group is its own worst enemy“.  Although the Shirky article is ten years old and the technology has moved on since then, the points remain valid.  You may not know the examples that he uses, but the risks of groups descending into internal squabbling remain today.

Clay Shirky suggested four ways that groups could be designed to avoid or deal with internal issues:

  1. Ensure users have an identity (a “handle”).  Even it is a nickname it gives others a chance to learn about the views and approach of each user and so to form opinions about them
  2. Have a way for users to gain a good reputation and for this to be shown.  This allows the committed users to have a greater stake in the group
  3. Put more control in the hands of the committed members and do not allow a large number of not very involved people to determine the future of the group
  4. Work out how to scale the group so that it still retains a way for members to have conversations with close associates and for relationships not to become swamped in a large mass of communication

I have not done the article justice and you should read it yourself to find out more.  But like the Bernard Marr article I talked about initially, it deals with conflict resolution and with addressing issues that arise between people, though in the Clay Shirky case it is in relation to online groups rather than groups in physical organisations.

Synthesising the two different articles has lead me to three key points:

  • accept that there are always going to be conflicts between individuals in any groups and plan how to make the best of it
  • the conflicts can be beneficial if they result from different views of people who are committed to the group, and give members a chance to understand each other’s viewpoints
  • there needs to be a mechanism for resolving the conflicts, which needs a leader or group with the power to listen to different views, try for consensus but then act to carry the group forward