Let Team Members Settle Disagreements
There’s no question that you care about your direct reports. So when they’re at odds with each other and keep running to you for help settling their issues, it’s only natural to want to step in and solve their problems. But is that really helpful? Many times the answer is no because when you get involved, you take ownership of problems that aren’t yours to solve, which can become a real headache if the solutions don’t work. Tough as it sometimes might be, push problems back onto those who truly own them, sending the message that you expect them to solve it. Make it clear that any unresolved conflict is not acceptable because it erodes teamwork. Also, always remember, you’re not a parent or a referee — you’re the boss. Don’t allow petty conflict to absorb your time, zap your energy, or rob you of any other resources you’ll need to ensure effective leadership.
Getting team members to solve disagreements on their own is key to effectively managing conflict in the workplace. Here are a few more ways to address — and help avoid it:
Keep your finger on the pulse of your team. If you’re noticing some alarming symptoms such as poor results or low morale, a conflict among your team members could be the culprit. So go on a fact-finding mission, asking some discovery questions that will tip you off to the truth. More importantly, however, habitually monitor the team climate, pulling individuals aside and asking questions like, “Is everyone pulling their own weight?” or “In your opinion, how’s the project going?” It’s never fun to go looking for problems but if a conflict among your people is a pain point, you’ll now have what you need to address it effectively and swiftly…and before it really gets out of control.
Set expectations around conflict management. Make it clear to your team that you will not allow conflict to disrupt the workplace. Make it equally clear that when it starts to bubble up, that you expect it to be settled. Set expectations around what needs to be done, set some controls for how it’s to be handled, and coach or provide training on how to manage it effectively.
Step up, protect the organization. Ideally, you want your direct reports or team members to feel empowered enough to handle their own conflicts. But if they’re clearly not successful at managing it and their problem has now grown and is permeating the organization, you will need to step in and address it. Anything that’s destroying morale, harming productivity, and/or hurting customers is more than a red flag. It’s a major call to action you can’t afford to ignore.
What have been your struggles with empowering teams to address their own conflict management?