In today's changing work environment, the complexity of the ever-changing workforce has proven to be quite a challenge to many companies. Employees are now empowered with front-line authority to make an array of decisions that can affect the entire company. Modern management practices encourage utilizing the power and creativity of groups and teams of employees to function as cohesive units to accomplish company goals and projects. Within a team, lies increased creativity, the ability to accomplish more than one individual, diversity of knowledge and experiences, and far superior group knowledge to overcome many complex issues. However, there can also be challenges to the team productivity and cooperation. Differences in diversity, personalities and culture can all create conflict within a team.
Conflict is neither good or bad suggests Rees (1991), it is what we do with it, which makes the difference. Although conflict is generally viewed in a negative way, and something to avoid, when appropriately managed it can generate beneficial results. Conflict management theorists define conflict as either constructive or destructive conflict. Constructive conflict is functional because it helps members accomplish goals and generate new insights into old problems. Destructive conflict is dysfunctional because it negatively affects team members by disrupting their activity. Conflict becomes a problem when people are unable to manage and resolve it effectively.
If conflict is not dealt with constructively, it can be a powerful destructive force between two people and within a team. The results of destructive conflict can usually be seen when team members are arguing, brooding, or fighting. Destructive, or Negative conflict, can be considered destructive if: 1. No decision is reached and the problem still exists; 2. It diverts energy from more valuable activities or issues; 3. It destroys the morale of teams or individual members; 4.
It polarizes or divides teams. Just because people are members of the same team does not mean that they will get along with one another, or that they will always agree with each other in specific situations (Boulding, 1962). Emotional conflict that is, personal or defensive behavior, can be resentful and is rooted in anger, personal friction, personality clashes, ego and tension. This type of conflict usually threatens the overall team productivity (Guetzkow & Gyr, 1954, p. 367-381). Competition is another form of destructive conflict. An individual who employs in the competition approach is pursuing his or her own interests at the teams' expense.
This is a power-oriented strategy where eventually someone wins and someone loses. Competition enables only one party to win. Before using competition as a strategy, decide whether or not winning the conflict is beneficial to either you or the other group members. Only use competition as an approach when; you know you are right; you need a quick decision; or if need to stand up for your own rights. Competition will not enhance a group's ability to work together and will furthermore; reduce team cooperation (Johnson, 1994). Boulding (1962) suggests that conflict in teams can arise from many different sources; the following is some of the more common sources of conflict: .
Values- the diverse cultural values of people who work in teams may not be the same, and when it comes to dealing with problems in which values are an issue, conflict can erupt... Attitudes- the attitudes of team members may be different on various issues. These differing attitudes may cause the goal of one person to be different than the goals of others... Needs- the needs of individuals in teams are different, and if not satisfied, can cause frustration and conflict between team members... Expectations- people in teams have varying expectations of how the process will work and what the outcomes will be. If for some reason these expectations are not met, conflict may develop...
Perceptions- people do not view the world in the same way. One person's perception of a situation or problem may be totally different from another's... Resources- when resources of any kind are scarce, conflict can take place... Personalities- members of the same team may not like another team member because they do not have the same personality type, or perhaps the same interests, this too can create much conflict within the team. Though we often view conflict through a negative lens, teams require some conflict in order to operate effectively. Cooperative, or Constructive conflict, can contribute to effective problem solving and decision-making by motivating people to examine the problem.
Encourage the expression of many ideas; energize people to seek a better solution; and incorporate several ideas to create high-quality solutions. The key is to understand how to handle it constructively (Nelson, 1995, p. 53-63). In most teams, members have both cooperative and competitive motives. Team members share a common objective when they work together; this is the cooperative aspect. Yet, in many teams, individual members have an incentive to further their own interests. Team efforts are often subverted when individual agendas lead to competition between members, and then they become preoccupied with what others are getting and what they are not (Deutsch, 1973).
Boulding (1962) furthermore adds that conflict can be considered constructive if: . Members change and grow personally from the conflict, . The conflict results in a solution to a problem, . It increases the involvement of everyone affected by the conflict, . It builds cohesiveness among the members of a team. Team members can enhance cooperation and minimize competition through team building, pledges and incentive structures.
Several ways to increase the teams' motivation is by linking individual outcomes to team outcomes. Recognition of individual efforts can also be successful. Another way to enhance the teams' identity is to extend the length of time people expect to work as a team, thereby, preserving continuity in team membership (Mannix, 1993, p. 1-22). Team members need to learn to make pledges; this way team cooperation is greatly improved. The power of pledges cannot be underestimated. In many instances, team members who make specific pledges or commitments to their team will act in ways that will benefit the group, even at the expense of self-interest.
Many organizations are moving toward team-based pay incentives. However, it must be structured in a way that everyone feels they are being treated fairly, and so that there is no resentment between members with different skill levels (Chen, 1996, p. 192-202). For teams to succeed, they need to have goals and the ability to measure the progress towards those goals. They also need certain values and goals with obtainable time constraints. These time constraints motivate the team to succeed and pressure them into action. According to Smith (1994), the values of a team explain "why" they wish to accomplish certain things.
The long-term goals ask what does the team want to accomplish, and the intermediate goals, how on a daily basis, the long-term goals are to be reached. To be productive, goals need to be S.M.A.R.T. This stands for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely. It is essential that goals be written down. Failure to do this can merely represent lofty wishes. Smith (1994), suggests that goals need to specify what the team is to accomplish.
If not, team members will not know whether they have even reached the goal. One can only improve what the team can measure. Rules adopted by the team, act as the unseen taskmaster to ensure team members are equally productive. There needs to be a consensus among the team as to, accepted behavior and especially, the rules for conflict resolution. It is easier to resolve issues within the team if all the members are aware of the rules and have already agreed to follow them. All members' need to candidly declare their adoption of the rules, and the team can hold them all accountable if they fail to obey.
The rules are the glue that keeps the team operating and efficiently working to attain the specific goals. The first rule is to have the team approve a chosen coordinator to act as the leader and motivator for the team. This method is referred to as chartering and sets the rules for the team. What individuals will be part of the team?
What are the goals of the team? And furthermore, what are the behavioral expectations and guidelines for the team members? The most important ingredient within a team is its composition. There are four personality types or categories that everyone falls into. Individuals may possess one or a mixture of the four types. Everyone though, has a dominant personality type.
Understanding the behaviorism of each personality type and how that individual views and receives criticism, their likes and dislikes, can add greatly to helping team members understand one another. This will also reduce friction that can be found when people clash with differing opinions. Differing personalities in a team can actually make or break a successful team, unless rules have been set in the beginning, to guide and restrict group behavior. Common practice in the creation of teams is the choosing of members with all the same qualities and personalities. Some believe this approach reduces future conflicts within the team, as all members possess the same likes and dislikes. However, we disagree.
Conflict within a team is inevitable. Differing personalities add greatly to the success and productivity of the team through diversity. Different opinions, likes and dislikes, cultural differences, ethnicity and personal experiences of the team add immeasurably to the combined team experience and creativity. To be successful, the team needs to embrace and accept one another's personal differences, build on the common goals and set personal differences aside to focus on achieving team goals. Negotiating conflict can lead to both productive and unproductive results. The challenge in reviewing conflict within a team is the realization that despite ones best efforts, not all conflicts are resolved.
In fact, this is a success in itself, knowing that in order to succeed one has to first fail. This process provides invaluable experience in conflict resolution through negotiation. There are many different methods of resolving conflict. Some have win-lose results, where someone wins and the other loses. Various management styles operate on this method. An example would be an angry boss who intimidated his employee into conforming through threats.
The manager gets his desired result of employee conformity and the employee leaves dissatisfied and disgruntled. This is not an effective solution, as the problem is not solved with the employee, only silenced for the immediate future. What is better is a win-win solution where both parties in a conflict feel heard, and an agreeable solution is provided for both parties. Always remember, that to agree to disagree is acceptable. It is the basis of sound business and respect for diversity in the workforce. Some tools for successful negotiating are to be present and listen attentively to the person involved.
Ensure the point the other person is trying to make is clearly understood. Sometimes it helps to have two people talk their differences out with a mediator present; having one individual speaks at a time. Successful and productive negotiating is a good tool to resolving team conflict. Time is the one commodity that man is not able to replenish. Once lost, we can only discover more of it by looking to the present and the future. Time management within a team is crucial to its success.
Unless team goals and projects are completed in a timely manner, lack of productivity results. One can see why cooperation within a team is so essential when considering deadlines for research and team projects. Failure on one team member to plan appropriately could lead the entire team to failure. Successful time management means realizing that the events in our lives fall into two categories. Those we can control and those we cannot. Controlling the events in life that we do have control over has many positive benefits.
When our goals are set and reached, both our self-esteem and our productivity increase, at home and at work. The highest reward that time management offers is inner peace for the individual and the team. Team members must set goals, plan on how to reach the goals, and know the timeframes in which to accomplish those goals. The key to success is to visualize your goals on a daily basis and to remind yourself how to best work towards accomplishing them. Teams that effectively use their time together and do their research before the projected deadline will accomplish more.
Another part of team dynamics is to understand the teams' expectations. It is easy to set group goals, guidelines, and schedules, but if each team member does not understand his or her part, nothing will get accomplished. Consequently, resentment will then soon set in. Each member of the group must communicate what their expectations of each other are. If this barrier is breached, team success is not possible. Communication is the foundation for all team functioning.
It requires team members to cooperate in order to establish ongoing communications with each other. There are many ways of facilitating and learning effective communication skills. Active listening exercises, practice in giving and receiving feedback, and practice checking for understanding of verbal messages, all which are aimed at developing excellent communication skills. To provide an environment for effective communication, a team must have an efficient process for exchange of information.
This requires time, space, and a regular opportunity for members to meet and discuss issues. Effective communication relies on listening, explaining perceptions, acknowledging, and discussing the differences and similarities in views (Woods, 1999). Team members must also recognize there are barriers which can affect communications. Woodcock (1994) suggests that some barriers to effective communication and teamwork includes: . Lack of a clearly stated, shared and measurable purpose; . Lack of training in interdisciplinary cooperation; .
Unclear roles and responsibilities; . Team is too large or too small; . Team is not composed of the most suitable members; and. Lack of appropriate mechanisms for timely exchange of information. Barriers to communication can range from different languages, differences in values, and terminology.
In many organization's, one of the major hurdles is finding time for team meeting's and developing valuable methods for effective team communication. In an organization, where there are multiple locations and settings, informal communication often occurs in hallways, elevators, by telephone, voice mail or email (Clark, 1986, p. 3-16). Good communication skills can also prevent conflict among the team. Many of us think we communicate well.
However, our body language does not fit our verbal messages, which can cause difference of opinion to the listener. We may personalize issues and criticize others actions, behaviors, or situations and not even realize it. Listening effectively is the other half of good communication. The most common mistake we make is letting our mind race ahead of the speaker's voice. We may use this speed difference in a negative response, or even in defense. Or, we may allow our mind to wander on other subjects and not hear what is being said at all.
This of course is frustrating for the speaker and can lead to misunderstandings. Team members must train their minds to focus on words and messages until the speaker is finished, and then analyze and formulate a response (Strategos, Inc., 2003). Another type of communication is face-to-face communication. This conveys the richest information because it allows for immediate observation of multiple cues, including body language, facial expression, and tone of voice (Daft, 1984, p. 191-233). Two primary things make face-to-face contact so important for both interaction and productivity. First, face-to-face communication is easier and, therefore, more likely to occur than are other form of communication.
Second, although it is seldom consciously realized, people mainly rely on nonverbal signals to help them conduct social interactions. One estimate is that 93 percent of the meaning of a message is contained in non-verbal communication (Meherabian, 1971). Important behavioral, cognitive, and emotional processes are set into motion when people meet face-to-face. Face-to-face interaction is significant as it allows people to develop a rapport with others (Tickle-Degnen, 1987, p. 113-136). Team members must also learn how to use constructive feedback. Constructive feedback requires the giver to pay compliments, as well as suggesting improvements.
Feedback is most helpful when it is not exaggerated, or consists of judgements, or evaluations, such as assuming the other's person's motivation or intentions. Avoid exaggerations such as "always" and "never" and judgmental words such as "should,"good,"bad", and "worst". If judgements must be included, the giver should first state clearly that these are matters of subjective evaluation, then describe the situation and let the recipient make the evaluation. The most useful feedback is given when the recipient is receptive to it (Scholtes, 1996, p. 6-32). Feedback among members is powerful. It defuses anger and brings some rationality to the overall team (Strategos, Inc., 2003).
However, no matter how well you set up a team, or how well that team communicates and works together, conflict is still going to occur. This is a good thing. Without conflict a team cannot grow, but will become stagnant. How we deal with conflict is what makes all the difference in the world. This is called conflict resolution. The following actions have been so successful in conflict resolution, that several employers have adopted the following for their own personal employee resource guideline (Ajemian, 1993, and Grant, 1995, and University of Colorado Health Science Center, 1995): .
Welcome the existence of conflict, . Separate the person from the problem, . Clarify the problem, . Deal with one problem at a time, . Listen with interest rather than evaluation, . Attack data, fact, etc... not assumptions, .
Brainstorm for solutions, . Be objective, . Invent new solutions that benefit all parties (compromise), . Implement the plan and; . Evaluate and review We must welcome the challenge of conflict. Teams are formed to maximize personal strengths.
Without conflict, there is no potential for change. Not being afraid of conflict is the first step in resolving it. So bring it out in the open so you can maximize your team's potential for growth. When a conflict does occur, the "conflicting members" must separate the person from the problem.
This will remove the emotional factor. Team members can do this by using communication skills. Listen carefully and make sure all of the "disagreement" is being aired. It is pointless to try to resolve something without all of the facts on the table.
Now that all parties have noted their differences, begin the process of clarifying what is really going on. What do all parties involved think is the problem? As far as the resolution process, most problems are multi layered and have several levels of difficulty. Now that the problems have been clearly defined, you can deal with them individually. Solve them one at a time, starting with the easiest problem first.
This will help build confidence in the overall team process. Additionally, it will remove unnecessary clutter from other discussions. Again, we must always remember how important communication is. Once the process has started, we must listen even closer. Try to understand the conflict rather than judge or evaluate it.
Team members should use reflective and clarifying questions to help to eliminate any confusion among the team. We must avoid making conflict personal. As a team, you should attack data, facts, assumptions, and any conclusions, but not other members. This can be difficult at times, and takes practiced communication skills to accomplish this. Once all of the conflicts have been discussed, it is time to start brainstorming. This should be done in an open format.
The old saying "there is no such thing as a stupid question" holds true on this level as well. There are no bad ideas. You never know where a small idea can lead, or what sparks it can produce in another's mind. Now that these ideas are out in the open, you must be objective about them. Just because an idea goes against your original thinking, doesn't make it wrong. Try to see the idea from all sides.
This is called compromising. Conflict resolution should always result in some sort of middle ground where both parties are satisfied. Once you get to this point, ideas should flow freely, especially if ideas are seriously looked at from all angles. Now you must implement a new plan of action by taking your new ideas and acting on them. After all of the planning is completed, most would believe that the "job" of resolution was accomplished. On the contrary, it has only just begun.
It is now time to review and evaluate what you have learned. This is a chance to go back and focus on what your team did right on wrong in the process. Knowing your team's strengths and weaknesses in conflict resolution is very important. When the next conflict arises, and it will, you will be better prepared to deal with it from this review process.
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