You can sense it. Your team is fragmented. Maybe you see edginess in meetings. Maybe it’s whispers and looks you notice. Or maybe someone has come directly to you regarding issues. Whatever the signs – you need to deal with it. Most managers and executives don’t want to deal with brewing conflict in their organization, but the quicker you address it, the less likely it is to fester and become something bigger and more difficult to handle.
And it can fester. It can get to the point where addressing the conflict is no longer the main concern. If things get bad enough, sometimes, you need to get HR involved or worse, attorneys. You can experience mass attrition and lose key players on your team, who become disenfranchised or disillusioned about management’s capability to resolve the issues on the team.
We know that typically you just want to focus on the business at hand and address team members’ capacity to manage their deliverables, but your team’s ability to function as a unit impacts their deliverables, because often they need to interact in some way to action those items.
In a recent study conducted in a healthcare setting, participants were surveyed on issues related to burnout, stress, anxiety, depression and mindfulness. The research found that the most common cause of stress on the job was interpersonal conflict. [Find Swiss Study and link to it] – Find citatation at mindful.org/researchroundup (June 2015 issue)
So, how do you assess what’s going on? You may already know what going on and have been hoping it would resolve itself or maybe you just sense it, but don’t know exactly what’s happening. If you are not sure, then you are going to need “key informants.” You are going to need to speak with key people on the team, who tend to have a sense of your org and explore some of the issues at hand. You may need more than one key informant if that person is a part of one of the factions and not a neutral party.
How will you know that you have enough information? When you begin to hear the same themes over and over again and have a decent grasp on what it going on. It’s important in all of these meetings to stay neutral and uninvolved. Your job is to manage the org and not to ally with any one person.
In your assessment, consider the following:
- Who is in each faction? What are the primary issues of each faction? What do members of the factions have in common with each other (e.g., is it New v. Old Guard? Women v. Men? Younger v. Older?)
- What is being communicated about your team from this conflict? This is a difficult question and may require going to outside sources like mentors for some feedback. You want to assess why this conflict has developed. It usually has a larger meaning. Are there concerns that there will be a reorg or layoffs? Have you been lax in your management of the org and this has affected the perception of who has power on your team? Is there frustration about advancement or growth opportunities? Take some time to really get as clear an understanding as you can about the meaning of this conflict.
- Evaluate who are the “leaders” of these camps. How have they been chosen? Do these individuals feel like they have some sway with you or the ability to challenge you?
- How have you unknowingly been participating in the development of this team conflict? Have you been checked out about team functioning? Have you been partial to certain members of your team? Have you been tight-lipped about certain issues that have impact on the team? This is also critically important as you will have to strategize about how to change this in the perception of the team.
All these are important questions to consider as you assess what is happening on your team. Whatever you do, don’t ignore it. There is valuable information that can be obtained from this experience. Your team can grow stronger than it is now if you show the team that they can work through conflict and develop from the experience.