There are two clear indicators that highlight when a team conflict is about to become negative for the team or the business. The first sign that a conflict is going to become a negative force in your team is if the emotions are starting to escalate. That is, people are getting angry. If they’re getting upset, this is a sign that the conflict is going to become personal and is going to become distracting from task performance.
The second sign that a conflict is going to be destructive for a team, is if people are fighting about things they actually don’t really care about. It shouldn’t be that important, so if you’re fighting about something silly, such as what time to meet or who’s going to do what, often these types of conflicts are then used for people to fight about bigger issues, such as status concerns, leadership issues, questions of respect and similar.
If you find the team fighting about something that just doesn’t make sense, and you ask yourself why this is such a big issue, it often means that your team is in trouble. This is a sign of destructive conflict and they need to take a step back and figure out what the real issues are and go from there. Conflicts generally start with one person who’s listening to a group discussion and they really don’t agree with what is being said.
So the person expresses conflict and other people on the team had the choice to reflect on that and to offer the feedback to agree or disagree. Generally, one person will offer feedback to what the person said. So you think we should take strategy X? Well actually I think we should take strategy Y. At this point, you have an interpersonal conflict between two people on the team. Now, five team members could be sitting there watching and deciding whether or not they should choose to engage or not.
Conflicts at this stage generally are the most positive for business culture and team performance because two people are engaged because of authentic interest in the issue and differences in opinion or information that need to be reconciled. However, as a conflict starts to escalate and to grow and to evolve more members may not always join for reasons due to the question being fought about.
They could join because they get emotional, the people are starting to yell or to get angry, and they also get emotional. It could also be that they’re helping political alliances, their boss or their friend or so when they’re close to is involved in the conflict and they feel may need to join it to support them.
This is the second phase of conflict and where subgroups start to form and when the sub groups involved in the conflict again it intensifies it escalates and it’s more likely to become personal and destructive than the initial conflict between the two people who had just different pieces of information.
As these subgroups start to fight with one another over time, any remaining members that weren’t involved in the conflict have no choice they’re going to be sucked in as well. Then you have a true team brawl which is not going to be a good thing for team performance. If a manager detects a conflict in the team, the first thing that the manager should do is to identify what’s being discussed and who’s involved and why.
So, if she sees two members discussing an issue this very related to the task and the member seem to be engaging in this debate because they want to make the team better, as a manager this is a conflict that you should allow to go on and let it play out and to see where they come to in this conflict. However, if the manager notes that the conflict is personal or emotional, this is a conflict that you should cut off and try to resolve offline.
Talk to the members individually and try to get them on the same page again. That is the first step to understand what they’re fighting about, what their motivations are and then to deal with that. Task conflicts again are the most productive form of conflict in teams. There’s three other forms of conflict that can occur in teams and are generally likely to hurt team performance.
These three destructive types of conflict in teams are process conflicts, relationship conflicts and status conflicts. Process conflicts are conflicts about the logistics of day-to-day work in teams of what time we’re going to meet or who’s going to do what, what responsibilities each person should have. These conflicts interestingly have been shown to be the most negative form of conflict that can occur in teams.
The reason being, is that these conflicts often represent underlying issues in the team that if you’re going to fight about roles and responsibilities is often because you care about your status or your prestige in the team. However you’re unwilling to say that, so then you choose indirectly to choose the best responsibility for yourself and to gain prestige over your teammates.
Another negative form of conflict in teams is relationship conflicts. These are about personality clashes, differences in political beliefs or people who just don’t get along. These conflicts have always been shown to be negative for team performance and are best avoided if you can.
The last type of conflict that’s been more recently pointed out in the literature is status conflicts. These are conflicts about the relative respect that people have from one another within the team. They are about the hierarchy, about the rank, order. These types of conflicts are especially prevalent in higher level teams in the organisation.
These conflicts are particularly difficult to work with and often negative for performance because people often don’t voice them directly. These indirect behaviours is engaging in process conflicts to claim a choice responsibility to improve your status. As a gauge in a relationship, conflicts to derogate somebody to again prove improve your own position and because your status conflicts are so insidious they’re difficult to catch and difficult to resolve.
If there’s any way to get the team on the same page to avoid status issues and team conflict in the first place and matter to be well advised to do that one of the solutions in the literature that’s been looked at, then is how do you help virtual team it’s given the virtual teams have more issues with conflict than face-to-face teams and one main solution is to make sure that you have a face-to-face kickoff when you start working together with a virtual team.
This is really critical to give team members a few days together to get to know one another so they have a context and understanding of the relationship and of the person. In case they do have a conflict over email or over the phone, they know how to make sense of it and to make the right attributions rather than taking things personally.
If conflict isn’t managed and isn’t dealt with, it transforms into a negative form of conflict, be it a process conflict, relationship conflict, or status conflict. It can tear it into pieces. There’s been research that shows that conflict leads to psychosomatic complaints. People get burnout, they get depressed and they leave the company and the teams eventually can dissolve.
So the dangers of not resolving team conflict are huge. It is something that managers really do need to take seriously in the daily life of their teams. Learn to monitor their conflicts and prevent them from getting to that point.