Team Dynamics and Conflict Resolution in Work Teams What are work teams and some of the ways to resolve their differences? Work teams are a group of people working together towards a shared vision or goal. Diversified work teams can be to ones advantage or diversity can lead arguments within the team. Without team dynamics in place conflict rises, and frustration and anger start to grow. This is why learning to resolve conflict issues is so important. Team dynamics are very complex.
One could define the term team dynamics as requiring individuals to motivate each other to achieve a common goal. Most of the time, without success, teams start projects without having a shared vision or goal in mind. That is what makes team dynamics so important. Team dynamics help individuals stay on task and motivate each other. They help build trust, loyalty, and communication.
Teams are made up of individuals with different backgrounds, thinking styles, talents, personality traits, learning styles, academic experiences, ethics, and behaviors who have to interact with each other on various assignments and projects. Forming a team is difficult without first creating some level of trust, loyalty, and friendship. There are also unseen factors that influence how a person reacts, behaves, performs, and creates either a positive or negative outcome. For example, in a small office with only eight employees, there may be several friendships and some acquaintanceship's formed.
The friendships can have either a negative or positive impact on the team. If the friends conduct a great deal of socializing in the office using their regular tone of voice, that would create a positive, relaxed, comfortable atmosphere for the entire team. However, if those friends start whispering, and an acquaintance of theirs, who has had previous issues with one of the friends, hears her whispering, the acquaintance automatically assumes the low tone whispers are about her. The acquaintance, in an effort to test her theory, walks into the room where the conversation is occurring and the talking stops.
That will likely result in a negative effect and the inability to concentrate on the tasks at hand. The end product will lead to frustration and anger that builds tension in the office. This friendship has had an impact on the team's performance and is therefore a team dynamic. That is why team building is a critical component in the success or failure of a work team. Team building must become a way of life; however, team building is usually seen as a chore where actions contradict the objective.
The team needs to develop a clear identity of themselves, becoming aware of each individual's potential as he or she start working together as one unit and not individually. Becoming results-oriented; listening to concerns, needs, and ambitions of each team member, and recognizing the unique contribution each team member can bring to the project will ensure successful team building. Once loyalty and trust have been achieved, individual roles and contributions can be assigned to team members with input and discussion. There are eight main team roles: coaches, crusaders, explorers, innovators, sculptors, curators, conductors, and scientists (Dieter, 2002). The first team role is coaches.
Coaches build rapport, motivate, and create harmony, and a positive atmosphere. Second are the crusaders. Crusaders generate a sense of team priority, place emphasis on ideas and thoughts, and stress the most important issues for discussions. Another role is the explorers. Explorers uncover new potential in both people and situations and look for new ways to do things. An additional team role is innovators.
Innovators contribute alternative perspectives and ideas and produce a sense of imagination. The fifth team role is sculptors. Sculptors are action-oriented and have a clear vision of their goals. Curators, another team role, clarify ideas and information. They attempt to gain additional knowledge and a realistic picture of any situation. Conductors, team role seven, create structure and logic and are procedure-oriented.
Lastly, scientists bring structure and organization to ideas. Conflict is unavoidable. Conflict usually involves individuals on the work team who have an essential need for identity, security, and recognition. They do not like change and are negative during brainstorming sessions or the thought of new ideas. In order to help teams succeed, try to understand the individual team member's personality types; behaviors, learning styles, and ethics.
Conflict has been categorized into three groups: substantive, procedural, and affective conflict. Substantive conflict is a disagreement over ideas. Procedural conflict is disagreeing over the process used to accomplish the goal. Affective conflict centers itself on communication and emotional styles of the various group members (Englberg, Wynn, and Schuttler, 2003). If handled inappropriately, team conflicts have a tendency to escalate. They tend to be drawn out and become highly resistant to resolution, even when the best available techniques are applied.
Two other conflict categories which are considered neither good nor bad, are constructive conflict and destructive conflict (Engleberg, et al., 2003). Depending on how a group handles each conflict depends on whether there is an outcome. If there is an outcome, is the outcome positive or negative? Here is an example. Which conflict category does this scenario fit into - constructive or destructive? At 10: 00 a.m. on Tuesday morning, I took address labels, stamps, and postcards into the secretary's office and asked her if she would stick the address labels and stamps on the postcards.
I emphasized to her the importance of the postcards being mailed on or by the following day. She agreed to the task. Once she agreed, I explained the postcards were invitations to a special event our organization was hosting in two weeks, and that is why completing the task on time was imperative. Thursday morning, I conducted a follow-up and asked the secretary whether she had completed the task.
Her response was "no" and that the task had not yet been started. What was the initial reaction to this example? How could the situation have been handled differently? Is the outcome of this example destructive or constructive conflict? Or is the example neither?
In constructive conflict, the team members are flexible, open to other people's ideas, and value everyone's contributions, even if the contribution is expressed through disagreement and promotes the group's goals. Destructive conflict is the opposite of constructive conflict. Destructive conflict prevents achievement of the group's goal. This type of conflict is where a team member engages in hostile behavior; they constantly criticize and disagree.
There is no flexibility from anyone on the team. Destructive conflict has the ability literally to disable a group from functioning. There are several types of conflict but there are also conflict styles. Researchers suggest that each individual may be categorized in one of five conflict styles. The five different conflict styles are avoidance, accommodation, competition, compromise, and collaboration (Engleberg, et al., 2003).
Avoidance conflict style is counterproductive. This conflict style does not address problems; this style intensifies group tension, and the individuals are unwilling to contribute to the group's goals. Second is the accommodation conflict style where people let their teammates take advantage of them. In this conflict style the motivation is getting along with others to feel needed and appreciated. Another conflict style is competition.
This conflict style is used more by individuals who are motivated to first achieve his or her goals then concentrate on the group's goals. Additionally, there is the compromise conflict style, or the middle ground approach which should only be used as a last resort. This style is about compromise, giving something to get something. The collaboration conflict style is searching for new results that will allow team members to achieve both group and individual goals simultaneously. The amount of time and energy spent is the downside of this method. With each individual there will be one particular conflict style that is used more often than the others.
As situations change, one's conflict style may change. There is no one conflict style that is right for all situations, but make sure to reflect on all the choices presented. Conflict resolution provides helpful hints on how to identify underlying issues and resolve those irritating conflicts that cause stress, frustration, and anxiety. Emotions that is inevitable when a team is in its infancy. In conflicts we firmly state and believe that all others' hostile actions are caused by their nasty vicious personalities while any hostile behavior that we might occasionally engage in (because we are basically sweet, gentle and kind people) is the result of circumstances and situational factors. They are nasty because they are nasty people.
If we are ever nasty it is because we have been forced into it by their rotten behavior and other circumstances beyond our control as aptly stated by Johnson & Johnson (1998). This statement exemplifies why conflict resolution is necessary for work teams. Everyone has a different personality. Included in those personalities are a different knowledge base, experiences, and cultural opinions. These attributes can be a recipe for a good working relationship or leave a margin for conflict. Many times it is possible to anticipate an area of conflict and alleviate the source or problem prior to dispute's erupting.
This should be the goal of any team. Find out the personality differences or areas of possible conflict and address the concerns collectively, with the goal being reconciliation. It is not possible to predict all conflict hence, the need for conflict resolution. Conflict resolution should follow a cycle: concern, vision, and action. What steps can be taken once conflict has erupted? A four-step process has been written for conflict resolution through mediation (Kennedy, 1998).
Step one is appropriate communication skills and understanding of the mediation process. All members of the team should obtain knowledge of accepted communication. If more than one member does not learn these skills, the process loses its ability to work effectively. Communication skills include learning how to confront others positively, how to listen to others' concerns, acknowledging all perspectives, offering appropriate responses, and committing to a resolution plan. Step two involves certification competency for each team member's use of mediation skills and understanding.
Conflict resolution can be taught to the team collectively, and, at the end of training, a certification assessment should be administered to all team members. This allows the team to see what points of mediation should be addressed and at what level of understanding their team is functioning. The third step is having a proper conflict resolution environment. Each team may have a different method of mediation.
A proper environment that encourages and empowers the team to formulate their system of mediation should be established. In this environment, guidelines for communication, problem presentation, problem-solving steps, and the rules of acceptable behavior patterns will be formed. The last step is team collaboration. This step is critical to the previous three steps stated. Team collaboration ensures that all team members are actively involved in the process.
It also encourages team self-reliance instead of outside mediation, to handle all forms of conflict within the team. Continual team building and training should be implemented to ensure growth and understanding of conflict resolution among the team members. Murdock (2004) acknowledged "it takes teamwork to make the dream work". One major dynamic of conflict resolution is communication. Most people in today's society have worked independently of others rather than interdependently. Independent workers find it difficult to work within the confines of a team.
Instead of the team members's being the goal of teamwork as more beneficial, they feel as though their individuality is being taken away. This interdependent relationship naturally leads to episodes of conflict said Kennedy (1998). If team members are not mutually respectful of one another and fail to harbor a willingness to disagree and resolve disputes, no method of team resolution is effective. Teams have to learn how to disagree agreeably. Four skills can be implemented by a team to manage disagreement conversation (Kennedy, 1998). The first skill is listening.
Concentrate on the person speaking and what he or she is saying verbally and non-verbally. Skill two is acknowledging what they have heard. Most people can handle criticism or a person disagreeing with what he or she has stated as long as his or her position on the matter has been acknowledged. People want to know they have been heard and that the listener paid attention to their position. Third is responding. Offer positive responses to comments and avoid defensive responses.
Positive responses should include: feedback on what has been stated, clarification, and possible alternatives. The last skill is resolution of differences. The goal of individual communication should be resolution. Define, analyze, and resolve the problem acceptably. As stated previously by Kennedy, (1998), conflict is usually derived from team members' personalities who have a different knowledge base in experience and cultural opinions. These are also the same characteristics that form an innovative team.
Diversity is an enormous attribute to have on a team provided the team is focused on the goal. Diversity does not breed conflict, it also encourages innovation. Diverse teams have the ability to create and innovate. Differences amongst the team have positive results concerning the final project.
Their differences allow them to see areas that may be lacking growth, allows them to, and creates balanced final products. Conflict within these teams, if managed and resolved properly have productive outcomes. Kennedy (1998) found the advantages of the constructive management of team conflict are becoming more evident in today's business world. Every team has internal conflicts from time to time. Teams go through definite stages as they develop. Determining which stage of development a team is in will help to decide on how to handle the conflict.
Mitchell (2002) noticed the importance of managing conflicts must be emphasized. When managed effectively, conflict can lead to many positive results, and the negative effects can be minimized. There are various ways to respond to conflict, and no single type of response is best for all people and situations. The best way for people to help themselves with conflict in work teams is to increase their own range and flexibility of their responses to make those responses more appropriate and effective for each circumstance. "What is needed is not well balanced individuals; but individuals who balance well with each other" (Belkin, 2002).
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