When you work in a team setting, conflict is inevitable. However, when members of your team aren’t getting along, the negative energy can be toxic for the entire team and the business can suffer as a result.
Part of a leader’s responsibility is to help mediate conflict in such situations and generate positivity throughout the team. Here, eight members of Young Entrepreneur Council share the most effective ways they know to mediate conflict and provide positive conflict resolution when their team members aren’t working well together.
1. Focus On Shared Goals
The key is to focus on shared goals. When you’re working with someone, at the top level your goals are the same: to grow the company, to increase revenue and to have a better workplace. If you can focus on those goals and then move down to find where you disagree, you can gain a better understanding of the source of the conflict on a granular level. Maybe one person is more growth-focused, while another is more concerned with maintaining what you currently have. Both want the company to succeed, but they see it in different ways. Just having agreement on that first question can help to ease tension. – Cody Candee, Bounce
2. Channel The Conflict
I’ve managed a lot of conflict over the years as we went from a team of four to a global publicly traded company with thousands of employees. At the same time, conflict—the right kind of conflict—is critical to a high-functioning team. I would rather have too much than too little—passion matters. The trick is channeling it down the right path, toward creativity, and away from posturing and ego. Conceptually, this isn’t rocket science and comes down to two simple things. On one hand, there needs to be trust and vulnerability, especially at the top. A little vulnerability does wonders to diffuse situations that would otherwise be toxic. On the other hand, you and the team need to score points together. Overcoming challenges shoulder-to-shoulder beats trust exercises all day, every day. – Alex Furman, Invitae
3. Find The Truth
Try to find the truth. This is a good start to conflict resolution. Meet individually with all staff members involved in the conflict to get their sides to the argument. To stay objective, ask them the same question. Remember, you’re not there to blame people—you’re there to understand the problem. You’ll need to see all sides to figure out the root cause of the problem. Then, help facilitate communication and respect. As the leader, all problems of the company are your responsibility. Depending on the nature of the conflict, you could begin to see gaps in your organizational skills. HR may have an inadequate process for handling this type of conflict. Maybe it’s a hiring problem. It may be a minor issue. What’s important is that you know what you’re dealing with. – Samuel Thimothy, OneIMS
4. Discourage Cliques
One of the best things you can do for the overall cohesiveness of your company is to not allow cliques to develop. If an internal conflict comes up (and it most certainly will), it’s better to bring it to light as early as possible so it can be discussed for resolution. Make sure to schedule meetings that focus on the root of the conflict rather than the players. Keep your eye on what matters—finding a solution. Allow players to discuss solutions openly and ensure that there’s a resolution at the end of the meeting. People want to be heard and validated with a compromise that works for everybody if it’s remotely possible. At the end of the day, the harmony between your team matters the most. Work to make sure that you can avoid issues, but also have a game plan for if and when issues arise. – Tyler Quiel, Giggster
5. Encourage Openness
As leaders, we want to establish a culture of openness, which encourages all members of the team to speak up right when conflict arises. We want conflict called out before it is a problem so we can address it as a team and talk it through. In pursuit of a culture of openness, accountability needs to go both ways or the entire pursuit is just words without action. What I have done is tasked two people with getting consistent authentic feedback from the team so accountability goes from the top of the company down. I hold myself to the same standard, and there are people who are responsible for keeping me in check too. When employees see everyone held accountable, they can then be open in voicing concerns immediately, knowing we all want every voice to be heard. – Liam Leonard, DML Capital
6. Organize Team Events
Organize a team event to blow off some steam. This should be during work hours so that people don’t feel like they are being forced on their own time. Competitive and high-spirited — and timed if possible — activities are the best way for people to work together as a team and have fun. It could be a sports game or a virtual reality game if you are operating on a hybrid model, or some type of discovery and critical thinking game. We have done escape rooms a lot and they are excellent for working out differences and really getting teams on the same page. Team bonding experiences should be regular parts of your calendar. This way, situations do not boil over. Regular outings that are nonprofessional and that require working together without high stakes generate positivity without pressure. – Matthew Capala, Alphametic
7. Keep Drama And Ego Out
At the nonprofit I run, our team conflict policy is one of “no drama.” I always say don’t take professional disagreements personally. Many times, ego can get in the way of very basic workplace interactions and it is important for everyone to remember that the mission of the organization is what is important. If you keep your goals and values aligned as an entire group, then individual disagreements become nonexistent. Everyone who works in the space knows that not seeing eye-to-eye on a particular issue doesn’t mean that you don’t align with the organization or team member that you are currently in conflict with. It is just a temporary situation in need of a middle ground. – Ashley Sharp, Dwell with Dignity
8. Listen Equally And Fairly
Listen carefully. Conflicts between reasonable people often arise naturally, and there are usually (at least) two sides to every story. Show your commitment to resolving conflicts between team members amicably by listening to differing points of view equally and fairly. If you have A-players on your team, disagreement not only is to be expected, but it can also be very productive. As a leader, it’s crucial you defuse any personal rancor or tension and remind the individuals involved that everyone is working toward a common goal—the success of the company. The first step to doing that is to ensure everyone feels heard and that their input and perspective matter. Often, that will be enough. – Mark Stallings, Casely, Inc.