Conflict Resolution in Work Teams
by: Kenneth R Tapscott
The process of building a team is no easy task. It requires a lot of commitment, cooperation and communication from all those involved. Everyone in the team should be sharing a common goal and everyone should contribute equally to the team’s efforts. Conflicts are inevitable in work teams, but are not something that have to prevent the team from growing and accomplishing it’s goals. Setting up a solid team structure and negotiating and mediating all disputes will increase chances of success in work teams.
About work teams
The implementing of work teams is surfacing more often and becoming more prominent in various organizations. Corporations have discovered the effectiveness of work teams and how they can resolve problems such as moral issues, performance issues and many others. (Capozzoli 1999) There are many factors which can prevent the teams from achieving there goals and many issues will surface and have to be delt with in order to have a successful team environment. Socialization is a very important part of team success. This is the stage when team members learn what is required of them to be a part of the team. The socialization of members is typically broken down into stages. There are typically three stages which include, the anticipation stage, the accommodation stage and the acceptance phase. (Capozzoli, T.K. 1995) The anticipation stage occurs first and is prior to a person even joining the team. In this stage future members will think about what may be expected of them when they join the team. They can start preparing for the team and think how they will be able to contribute. The next phase is the accommodation stage. This is where team members become involved with the team on a daily basis. Members will be contributing on a day-to-day basis. At this stage it will become clear to members of the team what is expected of them. Members will learn what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior in the team. The final stage of socialization is the acceptance stage. In this stage members are taking responsibility for their roles on the team. At this stage team members will feel that they are a part of the group and that they are contributing to the teams success. (Bowditch, J. L., Buono, A. F. 1997)
Why are there conflicts in teams?
Conflict can arise from numerous sources within a team setting and generally falls into three categories: communication factors, structural factors and personal factors. The first category is Communication. Poor listening skills, ignoring team members, wrongful interpretation and lack of sharing information are all a part of this barrier. These can lead to many misunderstandings. The second category is structural factors, which does not play much of a role with a college work team, as it does in a business. Regardless, disagreements that occur include the size of the organization, levels of participation and reward systems. Finally, personal factors include problems that occur with an individual’s self-esteem, their personal goals, values and needs. All of these differences can pose a challenge for the team as a whole. It may be difficult to get everyone in the team working together and contributing equally. (Capozzoli 1999) Communications are the key to success. A team must understand conflicts unpredictability and its impact on individuals and the team as a whole. These conflicts must be resolved and dealt with before the team falls apart.
Pros and Cons of Conflict
Conflict does not always become destructive. It can lead to a variety of ideas and give team members an interest in dealing with problems. It can give individuals the opportunity to develop their communication skills and express their personal thoughts to their team members. If you look at it from this perspective, it can be considered a positive thing. Conflict becomes negative when it is left to escalate to the point where people begin to feel defeated and a combative climate of distrust and suspicion develops. Nelson cautions that negative conflict can destroy a team quickly, and often arises from poor planning. He offers the list of high potential areas from which negative conflict issues commonly arise both in the workplace and in college:
· Administration Procedures: If the team lacks good groundwork for what it’s doing, its members will not be able to coordinate their work.
· People Resources: If the team does not have enough resources to do the job, it is inevitable that some will carry too heavy a load. Resentment, often unexpressed, may build, so it is crucial that team leaders ensure adequate resources.
· Cost overruns (work place mainly): Often inevitable, cost overruns become a problem when proper measures are not taken. The whole team should know early on when cost becomes a problem so additional funding can be sought by the team. This way the problem can be resolved before it grows into a problem for management.
· Schedules: The schedule is highly consequential to the team’s project and should be highly visible. All members should be willing to work together to help each other meet their deadlines.
· Responsibilities: Each team member must know what areas are assigned and who is accountable for them.
· Wish Lists: Stick to the project at hand and avoid being sidetracked into trying to fit other things into it. Wait and do the other things you would like to do after successful completion of the original project.
(Bowditch, J. L., Buono, A. F. 1997).
Team members can and should attempt to avoid negative conflict from occurring. Being aware of the potential for negative conflict to occur and taking the necessary steps to ensure good planning will help. (Esquivel, M.A. & Kleiner, B.H. 1997)
What will be one person’s weakness will possibly be another team member’s strengths. It is important early on to have each team member identify for the group what their skills are. Team members should identify the areas in which they will be the most effective and what areas they will be of least assistance. Some team members will be better at proof reading while others will be better at organizing and structuring the projects. Those team members who are visual learns should be assigned the visual task, such as creating tables, charts and other visuals. A very important part of a team is having everyone contribute equally. If one person is given a higher workload then their teammates, a sure conflict will develop. Team will need to lay out what is to be completed and from there distribute it equally to all members of the group.
People lead many different lives and have many different responsibilities, so it is not always easy for teams to coordinate a meeting. What is a good time for one member may be the busiest time of day for another. Thanks to modern technology team meeting are more easily possible. Do to advances in technology and the Internet, teams are able to met up at any time and any place in either a chat room or on a message board. Studies have found increased participation in computer-supported groups. (Nelson, M 1995) During computer discussions, team members felt more comfortable presenting their ideas and views during computer discussions than during the traditional meeting sessions. The convenience is a big advantage as well. With just a click of the mouse a team can be off and running exchanging ideas and planning for upcoming projects. Scheduling conflict need to be ironed out early on in the beginning stages of forming a team. A team cannot function unless all members are available to meet.
Lack of equal participation
In order to prevent non-equal participation teams need to come together early on and come to an agreement about participation. If it still becomes an issue there are several ways to go about resolving the lack of participation between members. Team members need to communicate with those they feel are not doing their part. Members need to injure about was they perceive as a lack of participation. It is very possible that the one who is not participating is not aware that everyone else in the groups feels this way. Finding out what each member of the group is feeling is the best way to start before approaching a member who is not participating. If it is determined that a member does not want to give equal participation, the group still needs to go on. I
Understanding and overcoming differences
The most important thing to remember when addressing a team conflict is the way in which it is handed is critical. You want to be able to manage the conflict in an effective manner in a way that you solve the problems but keep the group together at the same time. It would be of no advantage to the group if you chose the wrong approach to resolve conflicts and in turn break up the group. Teamwork is not something that can be demanded. It is a fragile structure which needs to be handled delicately so as not to dissolve the group. The key to successful group projects is encouragement of an open, frank dialogue among all participants. Once people feel as though they are able freely available to express their viewpoints without undue criticism or condemnation, a free-flowing environment will materialize. This kind of atmosphere is most conducive to productive work-product creation. Tribulations may crop up, but they can be dealt with in a professional, adult manner. (Porter J.D., Shelia 2003).
After correctly identifying what specific problems have arisen in the group environment, the next step is eradicating, to the extent possible, subject problems. Several methods of resolution may be employed to varying degrees of success. The importance of appropriately classifying the difficulties the team is experiencing cannot be understated. Different problems may require fundamentally different responses.
One method of conflict resolution is collaboration. This least-confrontational technique attempts to solve the problem by including everyone’s thoughts. After synthesizing each team member’s ideas, the best parts are selected to form the whole. Cooperative efforts made by the team can produce a solid result. This system is appropriate for groups containing especially delicate members and/or those with an inflated sense of self-worth. Perhaps the most effective method of conflict resolution is compromise. The first—and possibly most—important part of compromising is the realization that each person will have to relinquish something for the greater good. Once they can move beyond that, the rest is fairly simple. Even though limited satisfaction may result from seeing some of your work disregarded, a positive end-result should make up for a bruised ego. (Nelson, M 1995)
While others may entertain certain measures of conflict resolution such as avoidance or accommodation, those can prove ineffective and may actually cause larger problems down the line. By ignoring the predicament, it does a disservice to the views that have been stifled and the potentially positive contribution that may otherwise have been included in the project. Another method of solving disagreements is re-shuffling the team members. By altering the construction, a more agreeable stance might be agreed upon. With different people assigned to new tasks, fresh ideas may emerge and the conflict may resolve of its own volition. Even if that does not exclusively answer the quandary, reorganization may tamper down some of the previous problems enough that productive work can now be done. (Porter J.D., Shelia 2003).
Disagreement amongst team members does not necessarily have to represent a problem. In fact, a divergence of viewpoints can be celebrated as being a valuable asset to the ultimate goal of the team. Groups, while sometimes born of necessity, may also be created specifically for the purpose of encouraging a more creative, diverse project through the input of several unique viewpoints.
Conflict resolution inside a learning team is paramount to its success. Serious disagreement among team members can severely impact the group’s work or even grind operations to a halt. Teams may try and prevent disruptions from even arising while working together, but inevitably, when people from different backgrounds with diverse viewpoints merge, there will be some measure of disagreement. In order for the team to be effective, a reasonable solution to conflicts that may arise must be employed. Varying circumstances necessitate any one of a multitude of approaches. When the best process is applied, the problem can be discarded and the important work of the team can progress. Through the understanding and acceptance of the value of each team member, internal conflicts may be resolved in an expedient, efficient manner that will strengthen, rather than weaken, the group’s mission.
Porter J.D., Shelia (2003). Managing Conflict in Learning Teams. Retrieved May 25, 2004, from University of Phoenix, Learning Team Toolkit website:
Capozzoli, T.K. (1995, Dec). Resolving conflict within teams. Journal for Quality & Participation, 18(7), 28-30.
Capozzoli, T.K. (1999, Nov.). Conflict resolution – a key ingredient in successful teams. SuperVision, 60(11), 14-16.
(Esquivel, M.A. & Kleiner, B.H. 1997) (1997). The importance of conflict in work team effectiveness. Team Performance Management, 3(2), 89.
Nelson, M. (1995). Interpersonal team leadership skills. Hospital Material Management Quarterly, 16 (4), 53 – 63.
Rayeski, E., & Bryant, J. D. (1994). Team resolution process: A guideline for teams to manage conflict, performance, and discipline. In M. Beyerlein & M. Bullock (Eds.), The International Conference on Work Teams Proceedings: Anniversary Collection. The Best of 1990 – 1994 (pp. 215 – 221). Denton: University of North Texas, Center for the Study of Work Teams.
Bowditch, J. L., Buono, A. F. (1997). A primer on organizational behavior (4th ed.). New York, NY: JohnWiley & Sons.
About The Author
Kenneth R Tapscott is a Criminal Justice major currently working in the law enforcement field. More information can be obtained at www.tapscott.info.