Resolving conflicts on a management team is not easy. That's why it tends to get brushed aside. Which can be hugely detrimental, not just to the team, but to the entire organization. A management team that fails to resolve internal conflict can literally bring an initiative or even the entire organization to its knees. Yet many management teams that find themselves in that position fail to acknowledge the problem in the first place.
Those that deal effectively with this problem tend to go on to achieve success beyond what they could ever have imagined.
Here are some tips on how to deal with the problem of internal conflict on your management team:
- The team leader, i.e. the highest-ranking executive on the team, needs to take charge of the problem. This means that they not only take responsibility for the problem, but also for identifying the root causes and leading the management team on a journey towards reconciliation.
- Identify the root causes. In my experience, the root causes of conflict on a management team can be categorized using the “GRRRRR” acronym:
- Goals: Are there conflicting goals within the team? Has everyone committed to the team’s over-arching long-range goal or vision?
- Roles: Is there overlap or ambiguity concerning team members roles and responsibilities in executing the strategy for achieving the team’s goals?
- Resources: Is there competition over the allocation of resources between team members?
- Rewards: Do some team members feel that there is an imbalance or unfairness in how rewards are distributed among team members?
- Recognition: Is there a feeling amongst some team members of “favouritism” towards others on the team? Do some team members feel under-recognized while others receive plaudits?
- Relationships: Are there any personality conflicts among team members?
- Exercise due diligence in confirming the root cause(s). This typically does not involve bringing the team together, locking them away in a room and only letting them out when the problem is “solved”. It’s a lot more complex than that. The best advice here is to start with one-on-one meetings with each team member to gain their input, perspective, and commitment to solving the problem.
- Only bring the team together when you have all the available information you need, and a commitment from each team member to engage in problem-solving. A team in conflict will typically NOT function well together as a problem-solving entity if you jump the gun on this.
- Prepare for a longer journey than expected. Take it one day at a time. Your team needs to go through a meaningful process of reconciliation, and this won’t be easy for them, nor will it happen overnight.
- Acknowledge the power of personality differences. Recognize that people are different, and very often a lack of awareness on how these differences play out can cause misunderstanding, miscommunication, and rifts between team members. Get everyone to a point where they appreciate and value their personality differences.
- Establish strong team norms. Look for ways in which you can translate any solutions that work into a stated team norm. For example, a team that shows each other respect might come up with a norm that says “all team members are listened to” – this is best when it grows out of a transformational experience that the team has undergone together, such as a facilitated management retreat.
How to resolve conflicts on a management team is tricky. Start with these tips, but be prepared to flex your approach when needed. Above all, you as team leader need to model the team norms and associated behaviors you expect from your team members.