Managing conflict is one of the most important skills in the engaging leader’s toolkit. How you manage conflict will have a significant impact on whether your team is engaged and motivated or simply going through the motions.
In this blog post, I will first look at the impact of either ignoring or simply trying to quell conflict in your team. Then, I will highlight the huge benefits gained by managing conflict effectively.
My next blog post will provide some easy to implement tips and techniques to manage conflict.
Managing Conflict: The cost of ignoring/quelling conflict
Be under no illusion, managing conflict is essential. There is no convincing case for ignoring it or trying to simply stamp it out. Here is a case study from my own personal experience about the costs of first ignoring the conflict and then trying to stamp it out.
While in a previous job, I recall a period of significant change and excitement as the team was refreshed with new people, with new ideas and ways of doing things. I was the first of the ‘new hires’. The organisation itself was going through a change project. It was a very exciting prospect with seemingly great projects and development ahead. Even the manager closed a team meeting one day with the statement ‘This is the strongest team, by far, that I have ever managed.’
The team I had joined was mainly staffed with ‘lifers’ – people who had been in the organisation a very long time, many having never worked anywhere else. It was stagnant – 14 people and a huge budget, yet all the work was farmed out to consultants. The team itself wasn’t doing anything of any note.
I might have been looking forward to the challenges, as were the other two new hires. The existing team members, however, were not. Conflict ensued. It started with objections to every action taken by any of the new hires and escalated from there.
The manager simply lacked courage. She did not want to manage the conflict nor upset the old hands. So, she ignored the conflict until it was too late and then simply tried to stamp it out by trying to enforce the old, stagnant way of working. Creativity, innovation and problem solving efforts were all obstructed.
The ‘strongest team’ she had ever managed responded by leaving. Each new hire sought new opportunities taking their experience, skills and qualifications with them. Left behind was the old way of working. The dismantling of the team had begun. A team of 14 became a team of 3, losing its place in the organisation. Its most prestigious projects were reallocated and it lost control of its facilities including dedicated office space and training and meeting rooms. The team can now be found huddled in an open plan space on a different floor, squeezed in between various other functions.
The cost of not managing conflict was huge for this team and it will never recover the status it once had.
Managing Conflict: The benefits of doing it right
When confronted with a conflict situation, take a deep breath, find your courage and manage it right. It is a wonderful thing to be happening in your team and offers you so many positives. Here are just a few of the benefits:
- You are getting to see what really makes your team members tick. They are in a state of conflict because each is motivated to give their opinion. This is exactly where you want your team members to be. Managing conflict effectively will validate and maintain this.
- You are getting to see the different points of view, expertise and experience that exists in your team. Step back, listen and learn.
- You are showing your team members that you care. By taking time to discuss the issues, by listening and seeking the right outcome, your team members will feel the love. They will reward you for this with productivity, commitment and loyalty.
- You are building a stronger team where creativity, problem solving, and individual contribution is OK. Where blind group thinking and ‘we have always done it this way’ is not good enough. Your team members will feel and embrace the development.
- You are building a stronger team based on open communication and trusting each other to discuss and explore problems, looking for the right solution.
- You are building a stronger team, equipped to go the distance together because they feel valued and trusted, taking pride in their work as a result.