How to manage team conflicts

6 ways to ensure your team members work well together to overcome inevitable issues.

As a CIO, you should be encouraging competition between staff members. It’s actually healthy if your staff challenge each other to drive change. You want to have some team harmony and alignment but it’s often beneficial if team members have conflicting ideas.

Here are 6 ways to manage team conflicts.

1. Consider an executive coach

Consider if you need a coach to help you and your team. Introducing a third party will change your team dynamic. Staff will be skeptical of why this individual has been engaged but they will also be listening to a ‘new voice’ which provides a good platform to establish or reset how your team members work together.

2. Set ‘lead team’ rules

Having a great set of team rules is mandatory – it provides a framework for staff to react appropriately and work through issues when they occur.

These ‘lead team’ rules should ideally be broader than managing conflict and embrace how the team operates. But there is a clear need to have a focus on specific team rules around conflict management.

Let me illustrate two principles that I learnt from a very knowledgeable consultant, Chris Patty: to ‘tell me first’, and help the team understand their differences.

Firstly, when a conflict arises, the worst situation is that the aggrieved party complains to you, the CIO, effectively handing the responsibility to you to solve the issue. There are times when you should intervene but for a team to be effective, it needs to operate with trust and transparency.

To ‘tell me first’ means that if I have an issue, then I need to raise it with the appropriate person – not by email, voicemail or through a third party but directly. This is not about creating an ugly confrontation; it is about being authentic and letting others know your perspective.

As the CIO, when you then hear complaints that Fred has done something untoward, you need to raise it with him immediately. At the same time, your team members need to feel they can count on you for support. How your team behaves when the pressure is on is what counts.

Secondly, the team needs to understand how to relate to others and embrace these differences. A real strong team is able to use this diversity to drive a challenging agenda.

You need to have a common lexicon and model. There are a few classic ways to tackle this using methodologies such as Myers Briggs, Social Styles, or Belbin Team Roles.

Every enterprise will use a different model and which one you use is not that important. What is more critical is that there is a standard approach that the team can use to evaluate and determine their differences.

By investing this time, the CIO is able to ensure that his or her team builds perspective how others think while reflecting on how to work effectively with staff.

3. Allow self-healing where possible

To be crystal clear, self-management is yours and your team’s end goal. It is not healthy for issues to remain open and not resolved, nor is it going to be ideal for perceptions that the CIO plays favourites.

To always be intervening and to resolve conflicts is not always the best approach. The hard part is deciding when you absolutely have to intervene.

4. Be influential

Be open to being influenced by your team members and be sure to encourage them to be the same. When all team members are open to being influenced by others, then they build mutual respect.

Such behaviour is critical in making decisions and building ownership of team outcomes. This is a key success factor in getting teams to work well as a group.

There is a key element here in role modeling what you expect others to do. One of the best leaders that I worked for had a talent for taking in feedback from all staff and stakeholders. He listened and observed, then made a firm decision. As all had an opportunity to contribute to the decision, then he expected nothing but acceptance and commitment.

In this way he managed team conflicts by his inclusive approach. Everyone felt that they had been listened to and then more easily accepted the change that was coming.

5. Reflect on your own position

You have to reflect on your own role and decide if you are effectively managing team conflict. How do the leaders feel when you ask them to ‘tell me first?’ Do they agree that this is working as expected?

This means that you build your own self-awareness of what situations that you leave your team in while ensuring you are providing them the right environment to be successful. The right level of level of reflection will help you see what is happening and try to make small adjustments that help the team to resolve issues.

Be ‘reliable’ and be sure to follow through with what you say. Always be sure to under promise and over deliver. When you take on too much and do the opposite, you are putting your team at risk. And this destroys trust.  Do exactly what you would like your team to do and be a role model.

6. Intervene and reset

Finally, there are times that that you must intervene and help to team to reset. This calls for seasoned judgment and making an assessment that the conflict is escalating and not been handled by any of the parties.

A cool head is required and it is important to be involved but not get dragged into trying to be both judge and jury. It is likely that there will be conflicting facts and stories that will be hard to reconcile.

You have to recognise the critical moments for your team members and be prepared to have their back. This may sometimes be in direct conflict with one of your own desires. You are indeed managing conflicts including your own, which is an art that needs to be mastered.