Conflicts in Team – Understanding each other is not enough

In the recent Team Excellence Symposium (TES) organised by the Singapore Productivity Asssociation, I was one of the Assessors called to check several team project reports and presentations.

TEAM.  If one were to check through the Assessment Checksheet, one will find 12 mentions of the word ‘team’ in the 40-item Assessment Checksheet.  This is hardly surprising. The reason for the emphasis on TEAM is this – getting a project to yield results is not the end of it.  For the solution to continue to be effective, the team have to come together, work towards improving it.  The goal or objective and of achieving savings of time or generating increasing revenue is a great thing, but not the ultimate goal of a problem solving project.

CONTRIBUTOR.  The real goal of project is if it will continue to yield results as long as possible. Environment changes, and a good team must learn and relearn; adjust and modify in order to keep the productivity up.  The Work Improvement Team is a special unit that allow each members to learn, grow and to work as a contributor; feeling a sense of personal achievement through his involvement with the team.

SYNERGY.   When the deliveryman managed to send the item to the correct destination faster and on time; when the packer ensures a scratch-free product reaching the client, each of them knows that they have played a complementary role for overall success of their team.  Each member of the team knows that the output that is more the sum of the individuals’ contribution.   This is commonly known as synergy, but synergy needs a ‘super-structure’. Individuals are by nature, is self-serving.  Until each member develop an understanding for each other’s role synergy may not be achieved.  And in reality, the development of team-ness (team spirit) is not a simple growth path.

GETS WORSE BEFORE GETS BETTER.  The simplest way to describe this is that … things will get worse before they get better.  In my classes I often show this chart to help explain to them the development of teams (adopted from Tuckman):

Team Development Stages

Once a team is formed, the productivity of the team (output) actually goes down.  This is the stage when people in the team are finding their personal position in the team; every member is learning how to combine their strengths with the rest; determining who is strong in which area, and who needs help in which.

That is where conflict comes into the picture.  At this stage (named ‘storming’, according to Tuckman), team members must learn to manage conflicts or they will not progress. If conflicts are resolved in a healthy manner, all will benefit and move forward. The Leaders play a key role in helping the team set some extraordinary goal for this to happen. There are many ways and approaches the leader can use.

There are several conflict resolution options which can be chosen and there are fundamental steps to develop healthy conflict resolution process; resolution strategies should be designed according to the team’s composition, their areas of strength, maintenance of internal power balance, a micro-culture or norm of group behavior starts; and eventually the team members find a positive ‘fit-in’ in team.

So conflict in teams can be expected.  But the are ways to resolve them.  There are steps and tools that all members should learn.

Once the initial conflict is resolved positively, the team will go onto a steep upswing of the curve!

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