By: Dan Sanker, author of Collaborate! The Art of We (Jossey-Bass, 2012)
When workplace conflict seems to be getting in the way of the group’s progress or interfering with relationships, consider whether people are doing any of the following:
- Focusing on personalities and personal traits instead of on issues or ideas
- Arguing for positions, instead of focusing on ideas for achieving a result
- Shooting down one another’s ideas
- Being judgmental
- Trying to control the direction of the discussion
- Talking instead of listening
- Focusing on trivial points
- Going off on tangents
- Pushing for a solution or decision before everyone’s ideas have been heard
Keep the Focus on the Common Goal
In the heat of workplace conflict, it can be easy for people to forget about the shared goal that is the reason for the collaboration.
When workplace conflict seems to be bogging the group down or having negative effects on relationships, bring the focus back to what you are all working together to achieve.
For example, start every meeting with a recap of what you’re trying to achieve and how your team’s work will help you get there. The team leader assumes a coach-like role when dealing with internal conflict within the group.
If a conflict between team members is allowed to continue in a sports setting, it will be detrimental to the team as a whole and they will likely begin losing competitions. In the same manner, internal conflict is damaging to a business team.
The focus and energy must be placed on making the collaboration a successful one.
Resolve Personal Conflicts Quickly and Privately
It’s a beautiful thing when you’re collaborating with someone who can practically complete your sentences.
It’s less beautiful when you must constantly smooth the ruffled feathers of participants who differ in their viewpoints, workstyles, or attitudes. Some teams are riddled with such personal conflicts. Those teams are usually short-lived and accomplish little of value.
As a group, you need to agree to foster an environment that is tolerant of different ideas and opinions, but not tolerant of personal slights or drama-infused conflicts.
Critiques should be kept to the ideas expressed and not the people behind them. Personal conflicts need to be resolved outside the group, or if the members can’t work it out, both need to go.
Maintaining Commitment to the Project
Collaboration requires more than an initial enthusiasm about the common goal. It requires an ongoing commitment from everyone in the group. That commitment keeps people energized and involved even when the project bogs down or encounters difficult obstacles.
Agreement on the shared goal, trust, free and open communication, and an effective conflict resolution process go a long way toward maintaining the initial commitment.
Here are some other steps the group can take.
Clarify Roles and Responsibilities
To stay committed, people need to feel involved, useful, and valued throughout the collaboration process. That means making sure that every member of the group knows what he or she is supposed to do and how that effort contributes to achieving the goal.
Because not everyone will be involved at every stage of the project, the group needs to pay special attention to keeping people in the communication loop and finding ways to engage the less active participants regularly.
Respect People’s Other Priorities
The people who participate in collaborative projects usually have a lot on their plate. When setting priorities, the group needs to consider other responsibilities and projects that could impact members’ commitment to the collaboration process and project deadlines.
Members who have very little time or schedule flexibility should disclose this. The group may decide that the project requires too much time for that person to participate and can look for a different team member.
Recognize Accomplishments and Celebrate Milestones
Depending on the issue, a collaborative project might take anywhere from a few hours to a number of years. Thus it is important to keep everyone’s head in the game through some occasional recognition of success.
This does not have to be formal or costly, but should simply call attention to the fact that the group’s commitment to the project has paid off in the short term and indicate that continued commitment will allow them to accomplish the final goal.
The morale boost of, say, a group lunch can bring new energy to the project and inspire confidence as they begin working on their next milestone.
Reprinted by permission of the publisher, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., from Collaborate: The Art of We by Dan Sanker. Copyright (c) 2012 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.
Dan Sanker (Fayetteville, AR) is the Founder, CEO and President of CaseStack, a company that has been recognized as one of the fastest growing companies in the US by Inc Magazine, Entrepreneur and PricewaterhouseCoopers. Under his leadership, the Company has been chosen as One of the Best Places to Work, and noted for its innovative technology and collaborative relationships.
Sanker has held leadership positions at Procter & Gamble, Nabisco, Deloitte, and KPMG, and he has been published, quoted, or profiled in numerous publications including The Washington Post and The Los Angeles Times.