Teams in conflict

Team conflicts are complex and difficult to resolve. As a result, some teams operate in a dysfunctional way for months or even years.

Dysfunctional teams present a big challenge for organisations. Conflict within teams:

• Is complex

• Is time consuming

• Has a disastrous effect on productivity

• Causes stress, anxiety & sickness

• Leads to team members feeling powerless & wanting to leave

• Impacts customers’ experience

• Damages reputation

We like the five definitions of team conflict given by David Liddle.

1. 50/50 split, when the team splits with two opposing camps. This can lead to real friction and polarity.

Splitting can occur for a number of reasons:

1. It’s personal – about competence, intelligence, ethics

2. It’s hostile – not just a difference of opinion. There’s blame & resentment

3. Co-workers take extreme opposite, all or nothing positions against each other

4. There might be one ‘high conflict’ person that starts the split, but then others join in and the main ‘high conflict’ person becomes blurred.

5. People start to take sides and project blame onto the other side. Divisiveness and acting inappropriately is rife on both sides.

2. All against one

This occurs when the team is aligned against a particular individual, who is being demonised, harassed and bullied. Tension can arise in any team, but serious conflict can develop quickly. Many disputes start as mild disagreements which appear to be resolved or forgotten straight away. However, just because a disagreement isn’t visible doesn’t mean it’s been resolved.

According to CIPD, the most common types of workplace bullying fall into the following categories:

• Being undermined or humiliated

• Persistent, unwanted criticism

• Unreasonable pressure about job performance

• Public humiliation

• Shouting or heated arguments

• Verbal abuse

• Isolation or exclusion from social activities

Being bullied at work can be brutal and the effects do not stop when you go home for the day. Bullying can result in both physical and psychological health problems such as stress, anxiety, panic attacks, trouble sleeping, high blood pressure and ulcers.

3. Meltdown

Meltdown happens when the team is riddled with mini conflicts and feuds. Alliances appear and dissolve quickly. Gossiping and rumours are rife. What starts as a workplace disagreement can quickly spread into widespread employee disengagement and conflict.

Employee centric businesses will often refer to the workforce as ‘a living organism.’ It can flourish and it can suffer. A meltdown indicates that something is failing in your team, be it management, work conditions or morale.

The root of the problem can often be a combination of a number of issues. Some causes of employee disengagement are:

• Tedious tasks

• Unaccommodating structure and conditions

• Lack of communication and recognition

• Little transparency about direction and goals

• Minimal collaboration and teamwork

• Ineffective management

• Poor company culture

4. ‘Silo Teams.’

Silo working is an attitude found in many organisations where several departments or groups do not want to share information or knowledge with other individuals they work with.

In 2019, Silo working was thought to be growing, with more people working for large global firms with multiple offices and the increase in remote and flexible working patterns creating isolated units that didn’t want to share information.

However, there is a theory that Covid is breaking down Silos in companies. As explored by Ted Knutson for Forbes, “The pandemic forced organizations to operate as a whole, much more than they had in the past. The pandemic is compelling employees to work collectively to come up with creative solutions to problems that affected multiple functions,” reported the National Safety Council in a recent study. The study claims the pandemic has made “working in a silo” a thing of the past since March 2020.

5. Inner Core

A small inner core of team members are in conflict. Others are sucked in, often unwillingly, often under pressure to take a side.

Differences are inevitable when passionate people work together. Some of the conflicts an inner core may experience arise due to:

• Positions, strategies or opinions

• Mistrust or uneven communication

• Personality clashes

• Power issues and personal agendas

How to fix conflict in your teams

Team conflicts are complex and difficult to resolve. As a result, some teams operate in a dysfunctional way for months or even years. We can get your teams working together productively and collaboratively once again, no longer affected by dysfunctional dynamics and historical conflicts.

We work with you to:

• identify the precise conflict dynamics within the team

• develop a strategy to resolve existing team conflicts using a range of conflict interventions

• restore productive, collaborative team dynamics

• put in place a tailored, effective conflict resolution structure for the team going forwards to prevent recurrence.

For more types of team conflicts, see “Managing Conflict” by David Liddle.