How to create a team culture where healthy conflict is welcome

By: Marta Evans, Change & Communications Consultant 06/15/2017 Categories: Blog

Conflicts in the workplace are inevitable. A leader’s challenge is to create a team culture where conflict is a natural, healthy part of working together which contributes to more innovative and collaborative solutions.

The key is not to eliminate conflicts but to agree upfront, as a team, how to deal with differences when they eventually arise.

Setting ground rules

In our experience, it’s important that the leader facilitates a conversation where the team agrees to some ground rules for working together, including how to handle conflict. This way, team members will know what they can expect from each other.

Be specific about the standard of behaviours you commit to. For example:

  • Treat each other with respect – it is unacceptable to shout/use aggressive language. Everyone deserves to be listened to.
  • Go into conversations with an open mind – withhold your judgement.
  • Be aware of the impact of your behaviour – try to see the situation from the other person’s perspective and how your actions might be perceived by them.
  • Always talk about the issue (e.g. examples of behaviour) and not the person
  • Be open to others’ ideas and suggestions
  • Try to reach mutually acceptable outcomes that have everyone’s buy-in and support

Use non-judgmental questions to identify potential areas of misalignment and friction to pre-empt some conflicts e.g. “For you, what makes a good/bad first impression?” or “For you, is a promise an aspiration or a guarantee?”.

Harvard Business Review authors, G. Toegel and J-L. Barsoux[1] suggest useful tips to explore differences around how people look, act, speak, think and feel and how these might be perceived by others.

Having these conversations whilst the pressure is off can be helpful to build trust, encourage more understanding towards each other and prevent destructive behaviours within the team. Why not give it a go and let us know how you get on?

Let’s continue the discussion…

This year, our summer networking event will be based on workplace conflict. Join us on the evening of 5th July at Somerset House, London where we’ll discuss how you can resolve conflict and manage difficult behaviours effectively in the workplace. Our expert panel will also share their top tips and experiences around:

  • Handling difficult behaviour
  • Dealing with a conflict within your team(s) when it has an impact on you or others
  • Resolving conflict with your colleague or superior
  • Turning conflict into an opportunity to develop your relationship with others (sounds ambitious, right?)

We'll then continue the discussion over drinks and nibbles from 8pm. We’d love to see you there! For more information, or to sign up for free, click here.

[1] Toegel, G., & Barsoux, J. L. (2016). How to preempt team conflict. Harvard Business Review, (06).