Conflict in corporate teams is fine as long as your team immediately works toward a solution. Shouting matches, pounding on tables, and other displays of emotion may erupt, but effective management of these moments can bring volatile situations under control. Believe it or not, conflict can serve as the precursor to increased creativity and productivity.

When conflict is good. You must expect certain kinds of difficulty in team processes. As the weeks and months pass, circumstances, attitudes, and relationships will change. Adjustments to these changes may cause differing degrees of conflict. Some predictable situations are:

*Members beginning to resist tasks
*Individual work demands interfering with team time
*Members disagreeing on data and causes
*Members pressuring the team to move to solutions

When negative behaviors arise, view them as opportunities for progress. Unless they go unresolved, none of the above will adversely affect team performance. On the contrary — as you deal with these issues, your team will emerge stronger than before.

When conflict is bad. Adverse conditions develop when a team or an individual tries to ignore the existence of conflict. Denial causes situations to escalate from simple to complex. Unresolved problems will slow down progress and may eventually bring your team to a halt. Therefore, the earlier you deal with minor differences, the easier they are to solve.

Not everyone has the same ability to sense a problem. Some individuals are more sensitive to interpersonal dynamics. There are times you may have to believe someone else even if you don’t see what he/she sees. Be aware of your ability or lack of ability to reach people. If you are not as perceptive as other members, trust their judgment until proven false. It may take a longer for you to see what they see.

What to do. Identify the type of conflict you’re facing, and make sure everyone agrees. There are three types of conflict: fact conflicts, methods conflicts, and values conflicts. Review the facts of the situation and look for areas where everyone agrees. After looking for agreement, gather more information from all parties to try to resolve areas of disagreement. New information frequently resolves minor differences.

Each conflict type requires a different level of effort to resolve. Frequently, facts conflicts have easy solutions. Methods conflicts may require that the team review the original mission and goals. Values conflicts are difficult to resolve and your team may have to suspend regular activities to handle the situation.

Most of the time, settle differences in the presence of the entire team. If you communicate privately only, the rest of the team will wonder if the problem still exists. Open communication means allowing everyone to give input and sharing the victory. Sometimes, more serious conflicts should be settled outside meeting time, but remember to let everyone know when the situation is over.

If you have a facilitator, ask that person to assist in defining the problem, clarifying thoughts and feelings, defining roles, and helping the team to practice active listening.

A. Lisa Stevens
3 Jan. 2009