Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview

Relational Conflict Will Kill Team Harmony

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We generally have a negative reaction when we hear the word “conflict”, but ideological conflict can be a good thing for your team, as I’ve written previously. However, relational conflict, which is what we normally think of when we hear the word conflict, is not a good thing, and will kill the harmony on your team if not dealt with quickly and effectively. Relational conflict will not just go away on its own, unless one of the parties involved leaves your team or organization, which leaders should see as a failure. The ability to effectively resolve conflict is a key responsibility of leaders.
As a long-time leader, sadly, I would not always give myself high marks on how I resolved conflict on my teams. Many times, when dealing with conflict between two team members, leaders are faced with two diametrically opposed versions of a situation from people that they trust, when oftentimes the truth is somewhere in the middle. How a leader handles the situation is critical to team harmony and how successful the team will be in the future.
Relational conflict not only impacts individuals in the workplace, but it carries over into their home lives, impacting their overall mental and potentially physical health, and their relationships with their families as well.
I would often hear about conflict between two team members in our monthly “One on One” meetings. For example, I might hear from one team member that another was not carrying his weight on a particular effort. Perhaps the person was coming in to the office late and leaving early. Perhaps they were spending a lot of time on personal business, or playing games on the internet, instead of completing their work assignments on time and with quality, doing their part in moving the team forward.
How does a good leader respond to such feedback? If I would go back to the team member that I received feedback on, telling him that I had received some constructive feedback on them, they would often know, or at least strongly suspect, who the feedback had come from. This could very well lead to more tension between the two, up to the point of the two not communicating, which negatively impacts the team’s performance. On top of that, the individual might try to deflect the feedback from them, and instead blame the person that he felt that the feedback was from. What should a leader do in such a situation?
I always felt in situations of relational conflict, especially when I would get two versions of the situation from the team members involved, it was best to get the three of us to sit down together and talk it out. Uncomfortable? You bet. It takes leadership courage for a leader to facilitate such a meeting and then take appropriate action afterwards. The objective is to clear up any misunderstandings between the two team members having conflict. Team members don’t have to be friends, occasionally going out to lunch together, though I always liked to see that. What is needed however, is for team members to be courteous to each other and respect each other, so that they can effectively work together.
I mention that after the “clearing the air” meeting, the leader would need to take appropriate action. That action may be additional coaching and counseling, or something more serious. Whatever that action is, it should be kept confidential to only those that have a business need to know. It should not be shared with others on the team. Team members should trust their leaders to take the appropriate actions. However, if your team members continue to see the same behaviors that they expressed concerns to you about, they will assume that either you have not acted on the issue, or that the steps you have taken have not been effective.
Resolving relational conflict on a team, quickly and effectively is critical for the health and success of a team, and the individuals on a team. What other tips would you have for leaders in resolving conflict?

Author: Bill Pence

I’m Bill Pence – married to my best friend Tammy, a graduate of Covenant Seminary, St. Louis Cardinals fan, formerly a manager at a Fortune 50 organization, and in leadership at my local church. I am a life-long learner and have a passion to help people develop, and to use their strengths to their fullest potential. I am an INTJ on Myers-Briggs, 3 on the Enneagram, my top five Strengthsfinder themes are: Belief, Responsibility, Learner, Harmony, and Achiever, and my two StandOut strength roles are Creator and Equalizer. My favorite book is the Bible, with Romans my favorite book of the Bible, and Colossians 3:23 and 2 Corinthians 5:21 being my favorite verses. Some of my other favorite books are The Holiness of God and Chosen by God by R.C. Sproul, and Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper. I enjoy music in a variety of genres, including modern hymns, Christian hip-hop and classic rock. My book Called to Lead: Living and Leading for Jesus in the Workplace and Tammy’s book Study, Savor and Share Scripture: Becoming What We Behold are available in paperback and Kindle editions on Amazon.

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