Tag: Conflict Resolution

Getting to the Root Cause of Team Conflict

Getting to the Root Cause of Team Conflict

Building a positive foundation and gathering information are key steps to resolving conflict in your team, but it is going to be difficult to solve the problem if we don’t know what the problem is! You need to delve below the current conflict in the team to the root of the problem. This is important for long-term resolution, rather than a band-aid solution.

Examining Root Causes of Team Conflict

Once the groundwork has been laid, it is important to look at the root causes of the conflict in the team.

One way to do this is through simple verbal investigation. This involves continuously asking “Why?” to get to the root of the problem. An example:

I was very upset when Sharon vetoed my idea at the meeting.

Why <were you upset>?

I felt that my idea had real value and she didn’t listen to what I had to say.

Why <didn’t she listen to what you had to say>?

She has been with the company for a lot longer than I have and I feel that she doesn’t respect me.

Now we have progressed from a single isolated incident to the root cause of the incident itself (and probably many more past and future incidents). Resolving this root cause will provide greater value and satisfaction to all involved.

Paying attention to the wording of the root cause is important, too.

Watch out for vague verbs.

Try to keep emotions out of the problem statements.

Creating a Cause and Effect Diagram

Another way of examining root cause of team conflict is to create a cause and effect diagram (also known as a fishbone diagram) with the person that you are having the conflict. To start, draw a horizontal arrow pointing to the right on a large sheet of paper. At the end of the arrow, write down the problem.

Now, work together to list possible causes. Group these causes. Draw a line pointing to the large arrow for each cause and write the cause at the top.

Now, write each cause on a line pointing to the group arrow. (Sticky notes work well for this.)

Now the people in the conflict have a clear map of what is happening.

Although this technique can be time-consuming, it is excellent for complicated conflicts or for team conflicts where there may be more than one root cause. The drawing should be updated as new causes are discovered.

The Importance of Forgiveness in Conflict Resolution

Forgiveness is a key concept in conflict resolution. Forgiveness does not mean forgetting that the conflict happened, or erasing the emotions that it created. It does mean accepting that the conflict happened. Accepting and working through how it made you feel, accepting the consequences that it had, and letting those actions and consequences exist in the past.

Successful conflict resolution should give the team members some feeling of closure over the issue. Participants should feel that the conflict has been resolved to their satisfaction, and that it will not likely reoccur. These accomplishments should help the team members put the conflict behind them and move forward, to more things that are positive.

These goals should be kept in mind during the resolution process. Ask yourself, “Will resolving this help provide me with closure? Will this action help me accept what has happened and move on?”

Identifying the Benefits of Conflict Resolution

There is no doubt about it – conflict resolution in a team can be hard work. Effective conflict resolution digs deep into the issues, often exploring unfamiliar territory, to resolve the core conflict and prevent the problem from reoccurring.

However, this process can be time-consuming and emotionally difficult. The team members that are in conflict may arrive at a point (or several points) in the conflict resolution process where they wonder, “Is this really worth it?”

When you arrive at these stalemates, look at why you are resolving the conflict. It can also be helpful to explore what will happen if the conflict is not resolved.

What relationships will deteriorate or break up?

If this is a workplace conflict, what is the financial cost to the company?

What will be the emotional cost to the participants?

Who else will be affected?

These questions should help team members put things into perspective and evaluate whether or not the conflict is truly worth resolving. In most situations, resolving the true conflict is well worth the effort in the long term. Visualizing the benefits can provide the motivation to work through the rest of the process.

For complex conflicts, there are some additional ways to stay motivated. It’s OK to break the resolution sessions into parts, with a different goal for each session. It’s also OK to take breaks as needed – a walk around the block or a glass of water can do wonders to refresh the mind and body.


We looked at the importance of getting to the root cause of conflict in your team to achieve long term solutions. The cause and effect diagram was discussed as a way of examining root causes. Then we also explained why forgiveness is essential in the resolution of team conflicts and how you can encourage your team members to resolve conflicts by identifying the benefits of conflict resolution.

Team building events are a great way of identifying conflicts in your team that you may not have known existed. It can also be used as a tool help team members who are in conflict resolve their differences by working together on a non-work related project.


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5 Styles of Resolving Conflicts While Building a Team

5 Styles of Resolving Conflicts While Building a Team

There are five widely accepted styles of resolving conflicts which you can use while building your team. These were originally developed by Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilmann in the 1970’s. Understanding all five styles and knowing when to use them is an important part of successful conflict resolution in your team.


With the collaborating approach, the members of the team involved in the conflict,  work together to develop a win-win solution. This approach promotes assertiveness (rather than aggressiveness or passiveness).

This style is appropriate when:

  • The situation is not urgent
  • An important decision needs to be made
  • The conflict involves a large number of people, or people across different teams
  • Previous conflict resolution attempts have failed

This style is not appropriate when:

  • A decision needs to be made urgently
  • The matter is trivial to all involved

Related: Cooperation Outcome Based Team Building Activity


With a competitive approach, the team member in conflict takes a firm stand. They compete with the other team member for power, and they typically win (unless they’re up against someone else who is competing!) This style is often seen as aggressive, and can often be the cause of other team members in the conflict feeling injured or stepped on.

This style is appropriate when:

  • A decision needs to be made quickly (i.e., emergencies)
  • An unpopular decision needs to be made
  • Someone is trying to take advantage of a situation

This style is not appropriate when:

  • Team members are feeling sensitive about the conflict
  • The situation is not urgent


With the compromising approach, each team member in the conflict gives up something that contributes towards the conflict resolution.

This style is appropriate when:

  • A decision needs to be made sooner rather than later (meaning the situation is important but not urgent)
  • Resolving the conflict is more important than having each individual “win”
  • Power among team members in the conflict is equal

This style is not appropriate when:

  • A wide variety of important needs must be met
  • The situation is extremely urgent
  • One person holds more power than another

Related: Getting to the Root Cause of Team Conflict


The accommodating style is one of the most passive conflict resolution styles. With this style, one of the team members in conflict gives up what they want so that the other team member can have what they want. In general, this style is not very effective, but it is appropriate in certain scenarios.

This style is appropriate when:

  • Maintaining the relationship is more important than winning
  • The issue at hand is very important to the other team member, but is not important to you

This style is not appropriate when:


The last approach is to avoid the conflict entirely. People who use this style tend to accept decisions without question, avoid confrontation, and delegate difficult decisions and tasks. Avoiding is another passive approach that is typically not effective, but it does have its uses.

This style is appropriate when:

  • The issue is trivial
  • The conflict will resolve itself on its own soon

This style is not appropriate when:

  • The issue is important to you or those close to you (such as your team)
  • The conflict will continue or get worse without attention


In any team, conflict is inevitable, and knowing which style of conflict resolution to use or allow will help you build a successful team. Team building activities offer team leaders a safe environment to monitor how team members resolve conflict and what style of conflict resolution they use.


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Resolving Conflict in Your Team

Resolving Conflict in Your Team

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.

Related: Leadership Outcome Based Team Building Activities

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).

Related: 5 Styles of Resolving Conflicts While Building a Team

Maintaining Fairness

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.

Related: Getting to the Root Cause of Team 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
  • Mediators
  • 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.



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Creating an Effective Atmosphere for Conflict Resolution in Your Team

Conflict Resolution
Image Source: RyanMcGuire

When two or more people get together there is the possibility of conflict.  People are different, and when these differences come to light, conflict happens. When people are involved in conflict, there is typically negative emotions such anger, frustration and disappointment. By establishing a positive atmosphere in your team, you can turn the negative energy around and build a strong platform for the conflict resolution process.

Neutralizing Emotions during the Conflict

For the resolution process to begin, it is essential that both parties must agree that they want to resolve the conflict. Once they have agreed to resolve the conflict, the next step is to neutralize as many negative emotions as possible. The participants must be given enough time to vent and work through the feelings associated with the conflict.

Key steps to neutralizing emotions in the conflict resolution process:

  • Accept that you have negative feelings and that these feelings are normal.
  • Acknowledge the feelings and their root causes.
  • Identify how you might resolve your feelings.

Set the Ground Rules for Conflict Resolution

Ground rules provide the framework for resolving conflict and should be set at the beginning of any conflict resolution process. Depending on the situation, these ground rules can be extremely brief or highly detailed. The ground rules can be referred to by the participants throughout the conflict resolution process. These ground rules give the participants and objective way of addressing personal attacks and emotional issues.

Guidelines for ground rules:

  • The ground rules should be developed and agreed upon by all parties involved.
  • The ground rules should be positive as far as it possible.
  • The ground rules should be fair to both parties.
  • The ground rules should be enforceable.
  • The ground rules should be adjustable.
  • The ground rules should be written and posted where both parties can refer to them.

Some of the ground rules that can be set include:

  • We will listen to each other’s statements thoroughly before responding.
  • We will work together to achieve a mutually satisfactory solution.
  • We will respect each other as individuals, and therefore not engage in personal insults and attacks.

Choosing the Right Time and Place for Conflict Resolution

Choosing the right time and place is an essential part of successful conflict resolution.  You will not have much success trying to resolve a serious issue in the team, five minutes before the end of a shift. Whenever possible, you should choose a quiet place to discuss the conflict. Make sure there is enough time allowed and minimize distractions. Keep the needs of both parties in mind when scheduling the meeting. Make sure the time chosen works well for both of them and choose a neutral location. Remove any distractions so that both parties can concentrate on resolving the conflict.



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