Management Tips··6 min read

Three Common Team Conflict Examples (And How to Resolve Them)

Three Common Team Conflict Examples (And How to Resolve Them)

Team conflict is inevitable, and it isn’t all bad. Conflict can bring about healthy competition, driving people to do their best work. It may bring about greater understanding, tightened office bonds, and synergetic teams. In some ways, conflict can be viewed as a necessary component of developing a great product or service.

Any time iron sharpens iron, sparks can fly; but if it makes the company better, isn’t it worth it?

Unfortunately, conflict can disrupt workflow, create unnecessary delays, and diminish the quality of the product or service. Additionally, it can damage trust, create deeply-set fissures within groups, and cause irreparable damage to the reputation of teams and leadership.

Most team conflict falls into three categories: Structural, Procedural, or Interpersonal. All can be addressed, and utilized for the good of the business, by remembering that people are driven by a hierarchy of human needs, even in the workplace.

The main types of team conflict

All conflict situations are bad. However, differentiating between the types of common conflicts can help you better approach these situations and resolve the personality clashes that arise. By getting familiar with common workplace conflicts, you'll be able to see the signs of conflict early on so you can prevent them in the future.

1. Structural conflict

Sometimes conflict arises due to the actual structuring of teams, the organizational hierarchy, and confusion over who makes decisions or how they are made. Particularly when work requires cross-team cooperation, or when decision-making is layered, opportunities for conflict abound.

People are driven by a need to belong. In the workplace, particularly when there are several teams, an identity develops within each team that creates that sense of belonging.

That’s great and should be the case, but when the entire team needs to work together with other teams, it can get tricky. The further apart one team feels from another with which they are required to work and make decisions, the harder it can be for them to work together well.

Two key tools will help resolve and prevent this kind of structural conflict: communication and culture. Resolving structural conflict requires open and honest communication. Be clear about the responsibilities of each team and which team is taking the lead.

Be honest about the desired results and how each team brings strengths to achieve that result. And be ready to listen and watch out for signs of conflict.

Great communicators listen well, and that begins with asking good, pointed questions. Lean into uncomfortable conversations without getting upset or defensive so that people know you’re sincere about achieving excellence and not hung up on positional power. Poor communication is one of the most common causes of workplace conflict.

This kind of communication builds the culture that helps prevent conflict from arising in the first place. An environment that welcomes feedback and pushback at any level will generate employees who feel free to bring up issues in an honest way without turning to office gossip.

People need to feel secure in their place at work before they can feel like they belong, so building this culture goes a long way to preventing conflict in the long run. Having this sense of security should stem from the company leadership style.

A business that can listen to its employees is a sign of high emotional intelligence. And this ensures that from the team leaders to individual contributors, there is a strong company culture tied to support and collaboration.

2. Procedural conflict

Layered approaches to decision-making can often ensure that only the best ideas make it to the top. But a layered approach can also create unnecessary conflict and frustration for people only trying to do a job but who can’t because of how many people have to sign off on decisions.

When this type of conflict arises, it’s important to listen first, ask questions, and then propose solutions to the issue. Maybe there are unnecessary barriers to progress in the process. Or perhaps it hasn’t been communicated why the procedure is done. Either way, open communication will help alleviate the issue. However, there are steps organizations can take to prevent it.

You went through the trouble of screening, vetting, hiring, and training each employee in your organization. Once you’ve created a culture in which people can feel safe and in which they feel a sense of belonging, then it’s important they feel respected and empowered. This can lead to a healthy conflict, as everyone can feel safe to voice their opinions.

The further away a decision gets from the originating point, the less an employee will feel as though what they do matters because how they have to do it wastes time, effort, and expertise. This is where conflict resolution strategies come into play.

Not every decision is executive-worthy and not all conflicts are constructive conflicts. Lay out clear expectations that make it easy to empower your employees to make critical decisions, and leave only the most critical decisions to float their way through layered decision-makers.

This will not only communicate to your employees that you trust them, but it also creates efficiency and heads off conflict at the pass. Perhaps some task conflicts may arise, but you'll be able to remove personality conflicts out of the way and improve your team performance as well.

3. Interpersonal conflict

All organizations at one time or another will experience interpersonal conflict at one time or another. One impulse may be to ignore it, another to tamp it down harshly. But good organizations will look for resolutions that lead to improved workspace rather than stifled tensions and more employee conflicts.

Impartial mediation serves as the most reliable way to resolve interpersonal conflict on teams, but you’ll run your mediator ragged if that’s the only tool in your toolbox.

As soon as interpersonal conflict is detected, a keen and observant leader will ask gentle, not leading, questions to decide whether and how to engage. If conflict indeed seems inevitable, addressing it before it escalates would be prudent.

One way to reduce interpersonal conflict, though, is to train and equip your people with better tools to work with each other. Personal development should be a part of training for all personnel, but especially leadership.

That training should include training on different personality traits, communication styles, and how to best motivate and communicate with each type. This can easily prevent future conflicts and prevent your team from calling up human resources every time a conflict arises.

Some employees would jump at the opportunity for that kind of training, and they should, because understanding what motivates each person and how they best receive communication will help teammates create safe, respectful spaces for each other.

These trainings can help them interpret body language, understand the different personality types and develop positive outcomes from different types of personal attacks.

Leadership first

It cannot be emphasized enough that appropriate conflict resolution and prevention must be modeled at all levels of leadership. An expectation for employees sounds hollow if every manager, department head, or senior leader ignores those same expectations.

Resolving team conflict isn’t necessarily rocket science, but rooting it out before it begins takes work and requires putting people, including employees, first. Those willing to invest the time to care about people will create thriving, successful organizations and engaged, loyal teams that will elevate business.

The leadership team should be the first to get informed about different examples of conflict and how unresolved conflicts can impact the entire team performance. When the leadership is aware of effective conflict management strategies, the entire company can have a healthier approach to conflict resolution.

Wrapping up

One of the best ways to avoid workplace conflict is to understand how your employees work and reach a common ground with them. Unfortunately, you can't be everywhere at all times, but Unrubble can.

With Unrubble, you'll be able to track how your teams spend time at work and when they are at their most productive. With precise time logs and entries, you can prevent various types of conflict, all the while keeping your employees accountable.

Sign up for your free trial today!

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