Over the last 6 months I have been asked to support a number of organisations living with entrenched team conflict. In each case the situation had been developing for many months and operations were being impacted. Put simply, the conflict was eating up all the energy and focus that should have been going into providing services and achieving objectives.
It can be very tricky to see the wood for the trees and for line managers to know what to do next. Often there had been sensible and pragmatic attempts to resolve the conflict, but the apparent complexity of situations – multiple people, many incidents/ episodes/ accusations, many strong feelings – can seem impossible to unpick.
I am sure my clients wouldn’t mind me saying that they came to me because they couldn’t think of anything else to try!
My approach to these situations is simple. I don’t offer diagnosis or remedial action on the spot. Instead I offer to come and spend a day with the people in conflict. Privately, one by one. I provide an opportunity for those people to speak about how things are for them. These sessions are confidential in that whist I will feed back my impressions and recommendations for next steps, I won’t be reporting back who felt what or said what.
At the end of that day then I am in a good position to advise on steps that might support the team to resolve their conflict. At times I recommend a one to one mediation (or several) to allow people to explore specific issues and find a way to work together. At times I recommend some focussed coaching or group skills development. In some situations, I don’t feel my skills are what’s needed, and I signpost to other specialists. But sometimes…
Sometimes we don’t need to do anything more. Sometimes, the opportunity to sit and speak out how they feel is enough for individuals to see things clearly, identify what they want and need to do and have the courage to go and do it. It has happened twice this year in very different teams with very different issues. After the “listening day” individuals have contacted me and their manager to say “XXXXXX and I have spoken. We have talked about YYYYYYYY and have a way forward that we are both happy with. Thanks for your help, we can take it from here.”
That’s a real cause for celebration.
We will all face seemingly intractable team issues at some point and not know what to do. Perhaps we should consider making space for serious listening.