How Team Conflict Can Hurt (or Help) You

It’s every manager’s nightmare. You’ve got a high profile project and a fast time frame that hits a logjam due to a personality conflict within the team. Or perhaps you’ve inherited some team members with some long standing differences and no desire to resolve them. Meetings become tense, fingers get pointed, and everything’s more work than it should be. 

There’s no doubt about it - conflict can throw a monkey wrench into everything.

How much is conflict in the workplace costing you?

Although it’s so pervasive, it’s difficult to estimate the total cost of each workplace conflict. But let’s look at some of the known factors:

  • Team conflict takes up a lot of paid time. How many resources are involved with resolving each conflict? Between the employees, direct managers, and even human resource managers that may get involved, that’s a lot of working time wasted on resolving the conflict and not on actually doing the work.
  • Turnover due to conflict has a tremendous cost to an organization, including lost productivity, finding a replacement, and getting the new team member trained and up to speed.
  • Project failure and missed milestones are very real risks if the conflict isn’t handled and resolved appropriately.

Conflict of personalities can seem the trickiest - but the key is in communication

There are many types of conflicts within the workplace - usually over resources and goals. Some of those can be arbitrated by management by reallocating resources and adjusting the goals and expectations accordingly.

While employees can be moved between projects and deadlines can be moved, it’s more difficult to command different personalities to cooperate with each other just because management says so. This requires a different type of approach.

According to the Management Development Institute, understanding and being considerate of the different personalities and their value systems is the key to keep interpersonal working relationships running smoothly.

Once team members truly understand each other, they can begin to:

  • Feel as if they themselves are sincerely heard and valued
  • Truly listen to and value the other person’s point of view
  • Lower defenses and feel safe discussing alternate ideas and options
  • Feel as if everyone is “on the same side”

Conflict can actually be good when handled well

The truth is, not all conflict is bad. In order to get the very best decisions and strategies, team members should feel comfortable asking probing questions, testing other people’s theories, raising objections, and offering other solutions.

WIthout a safe atmosphere of communication that can handle healthy dissension, an organization could end up with groupthink, where team members keep their questions, doubts, and opposing thoughts to themselves.

Groupthink is notorious for making a group or organization susceptible to bad decisions with unfortunate outcomes. This can happen anytime that team members:

  • feel alienated, as if their opinion isn’t taken seriously
  • are afraid to look silly if their idea falls flat in front of the group
  • assume they are the only ones who have questions or doubts
  • feel disengaged from the team or organization in general
  • are afraid to give negative feedback

The KeepWOL platform encourages honest discussion and exploration. Team members get accustomed to asking follow up questions to drill down on the original answer - but in a fun and relaxed atmosphere.

This team-building virtual game was created from a proven communication methodology that encourages curiosity, listening skills, and psychological safety in the workplace. Because it’s a fun game (instead of the dreaded slide deck), real bonds can be formed without feeling forced or like they are going through the motions just to please management.

In sessions as short as 90-minutes, you can nurture the type of communication and collaborative exchange of ideas that comes from a deep mutual understanding. This can be practiced over and over - in as many KeepWOL sessions as you need.

Normalizing curiosity and willingness to probe for answers in a collaborative way can translate into healthy team dynamics where members can work out concepts without feelings of vulnerability and defensiveness. As a result, you’ll have a team willing to thoughtfully work through conflicts to find the best solution.