Team leaders are often called in to help mediate conflicts within their team, or sometimes within other teams. Although many people dislike dealing with conflict, when it is managed properly, it can be a positive thing. With the proper tools, people are able to air their ideas and their issues, share information in a constructive manner, and work towards resolving their differences. All of this should result in a more productive, respectful, open workplace.
Using a Conflict Resolution Process
Having a pre-defined conflict resolution process is a valuable tool. This process will give any team leader an objective, neutral way to identify, explore, and resolve conflicts. We recommend using the OPEN technique.
On The Table – Identify positions, perceptions, interests, needs, concerns, goals, motivations…
Put the Problem into Focus – What is the problem? What is not the problem? Make sure you identify the real root cause. Problems are often not what they seem!
Explore Your Options – Brainstorm Solutions. The objective here is quantity, not quality. Once you have some solutions, evaluate and come up with a short list.
Negotiate a Solution – Always aim for win-win.
After a solution has been negotiated, make sure to follow up and make sure that the conflict has indeed been resolved and that the proposed solution is working. If it is not working, it’s time to go back to the drawing board, perhaps with input from others (if appropriate).
During the conflict resolution process, it is very important that you remain objective and neutral to ensure that the process is fair to all. Key behaviors include:
- Never taking sides, even if asked
- Asking for, and encouraging, a response from all comments
- Remaining objective and neutral, and avoiding subjective comments
- Offering factual observations to both sides to help root out the key issues
- Encouraging win-win solutions
- Ensuring a balance of power is maintained, so that one side does not feel bullied or neglected
Seeking Help from Within the Team
At times, it may be appropriate to involve the entire team in conflict resolution. This often occurs when:
- There is a conflict between all members of the team
- There is a conflict between a few team members that is affecting the entire team
In these situations, it is important to have a face-to-face meeting of the entire team. Write the OPEN process on the flip chart. The team’s input should be greatest in the first three phases. In the negotiation phase, you (as the team leader) should ensure that the proposed solution will not negatively affect others or cause more conflict.
Seeking Help from Outside the Team
If the people in conflict are unable to resolve the problem with your assistance, and team assistance has not worked or is not appropriate, then it may be time to seek help from outside sources. This approach can also be used when you have a conflict of interest in the issue at hand.
Outside sources can include:
- Other leaders
- Human resources personnel
No one with authority over the team (such as your manager) should be considered, as they may intimidate the people in conflict and take focus away from conflict resolution.