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Conflicts in the team: What to do when the air gets thick? 31 Tips

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What you can do to resolve conflicts constructively within the team

There are conflicts in teams everywhere.
Are you a manager and leading a team? Well, then you know: where there are people, there are always conflicts. This is quite normal and almost never fails to happen. The important thing is how you deal with the conflict:
If conflicts in the team are not addressed at all and smoulder for months, even years, then they will erupt explosively or through constant nagging – unless you find ways to resolve conflicts constructively and objectively.
As a manager, you naturally have a very special role to play in team conflicts.
In this article, we take a look at the different types of conflict in a team, what you can actually do when trouble is in the air – and what you should rather leave alone…
Dispute in the team

How do conflicts arise in a team?

We all know the unpleasant feeling when things go wrong at home, whether privately or professionally – it’s usually very nerve-wracking. There are many opportunities to clash, especially in a professional context. – But why is that?
Where do these conflicts come from?
    • Differences

Sometimes people don’t get along because they tick differently: employee A is always punctual, takes things very seriously and attaches great importance to detailed compliance with rules and processes; employee B, however, is more the creative type, comes up with good ideas, but is sometimes a bit chaotic, which generously includes unpunctuality. If both could see the strengths and advantages that the other’s differences bring with them, there would be a lot to be gained; but – as we humans are:
We are most likely to notice what we are missing. A wonderful basis for conflicts…

    • Performance

Sometimes an employee doesn’t perform as expected and holds up the whole team, which is usually met with displeasure.

Conflict in the team over performance
    • Behaviors

An employee often displays behavior that triggers negative feelings in another employee. Sometimes behavior is also misinterpreted: “He’s arrogant” or “She probably thinks she’s better!”
    • Interface problems

There are also so-called interface problems, which means that responsibilities are not clearly defined. The employees are at loggerheads because things are not running smoothly and each employee suspects that the other is simply not doing enough. A problem that clearly needs to be solved by the manager.
    • Rank and role conflicts

Rank and role conflicts are also very popular. An example: the older employee thinks that he deserves more respect and esteem because of his age and the fact that he has been with the company longer. Although the younger employee is aware that she is younger, she sees herself as more competent with regard to the current challenges. She knows that she knows her way around better and believes that age and sitting in a chair do not make an employee’s opinion any more valuable than her own.
    • Incidents

Sometimes something has happened between coworkers that has hurt one or both of them, and the people involved have not yet found a way to deal with it well.
Changes in the team.
    • Changes in the team composition

New additions to the company are also a wonderful opportunity to come into conflict. With every change in a team, the catchy forming phase – also known as the warming or familiarization phase – is followed by storming, the phase in which different interests become apparent and may clash. We still need to find ways and rules for working together smoothly. Interestingly, there are also the same phases in the private sphere, for example when falling in love: once the first pink clouds have faded, you quickly realize that your wonderful partner also has rough edges that rub you the wrong way. You can find out more about the different phases in our article on team development.
We have listed the most common reasons for disputes here. It is certainly relatively easy to find many other reasons to disagree. The list could be extended.

Video Conflicts in an agile environment

A productive corporate culture also includes dealing constructively with conflicts. In the VUCA world in particular, it is important to recognize them quickly and address them swiftly in order to remain competitive in the market. Can methods be adopted from other environments? What is the iceberg model all about? Oliver talks about differences, but also similarities that are context-independent in the new video.

What to do in the event of team conflicts?

What can you do as a manager when employees argue – or what should you do?

1. find out what’s going on!

Your first step should be to ask yourself: am I really aware of what is going on in the team? As the boss, am I awake enough in the team to notice what’s going wrong? Do I have my ear to the rail? Am I communicating sufficiently with my team in this regard?

Differences between generations

2. stay active!

But how do you make sure that you notice when your team is burdened by conflicts? What specifically can you do?
Relying on the fact that you will somehow find out when an argument has flared up is not enough. This is where you need to take action!
    • Hold regular discussions with your employees! Invite us to one-to-one meetings!
    • Organize regular team meetings that include dialogue between all colleagues.
    • Show your interest in the employees, go through the team and ask how things are going.
If you do not do this, conflicts are often not disclosed and continue to fester unresolved. Here they often cause great damage, for example by reducing the team’s performance or even causing team members to leave.
Remember: It is a fundamental task of every manager to ensure that the team runs smoothly.

3. localize conflicts in the team!

They have gotten wind that there are conflicts in the team. But what now?
First find out whether the conflict affects individuals in the team or whether the entire team is involved!
Depending on where tensions have arisen in the team, a tailored approach or appropriate conflict management is recommended. We will now go into this in more detail.

Who has the conflict?

Conflicts in the team can arise at different points. There are conflicts
  1. in the overall team
  2. from individual employees to each other
  3. between manager and employee

10 tips: Conflicts in the overall team

  1. Take your time

If the conflict affects the whole team, you should take time to work through the conflict together with the whole team. One possibility would be a team development measure.
It is important that you create the basis for the conflicts to be brought to the table – in a factually objective manner. Everyone in the team must be given the opportunity to talk openly about problems and express their opinions.
  1. Support from moderators

The process should be moderated. Internal or external moderators ensure that everyone gets a chance to speak and has the courage to say where it hurts. A good moderator knows a wealth of – even unusual – methods to first map out what is going on in the team before working on it together. They control the process of how things are addressed so that everyone has enough time to express themselves and the others listen respectfully, so that the process remains constructive.
  1. Constructive atmosphere

It cannot be emphasized often enough how important a constructive atmosphere is for resolving conflicts!
Remember: It’s not about finding out who is to blame, but rather about finding solutions together that everyone can live with as well as possible.

Conflicts in the team Feedback rules

  1. Feedback rules

Feedback rules provide a structure for how to express yourself in conflicts so that nobody feels attacked. We have written an article on this essential topic: How to give constructive feedback: 10 rules for successful feedback
  1. Objective or emotional

Find out: Is the conflict factual or emotional?
There are situations and phases in which emotional conflicts are the norm. Here are a few examples:
  • Changes in the team, such as new additions, departures, changes to roles and responsibilities
    We mentioned at the beginning that there are different phases when a team comes together. Find out more here: Team development: How a group becomes a team
  • If the conflict arises during a storming phase because the team has been reorganized, it is important to express the different interests and make it clear that such storming is completely normal.
  • When resistance arises in a change process, it is important that everyone can name their issues and feels understood. It is normal for a change process to be emotional at times, because change is not always easy.
In emotional conflicts, the most important thing is to talk. If the emotional conflict is part of a process, it is often not possible to find solutions, but it is a matter of enduring this phase and being able to let it go.

Disputes and conflicts in the team

  1. Impartial

Stay neutral! Don’t agree with one side. Everyone should feel understood. Point out differences objectively, make conflicts of objectives clear and work with the team to find solutions!
  1. Win Win

The best solutions are those where everyone feels they have gained something. If one person emerges triumphant from the situation while the other grinds their teeth, then the next trouble is inevitable. Therefore: analyze objectively and find win-win solutions together!
  1. Management errors

There are conflicts that have arisen because the manager has failed to do something, such as clarifying responsibilities. Of course, it is up to the manager to correct their mistakes and omissions.
  1. Internal competition

Sometimes the internal competition is also too great. This can happen when sales or service staff have an individual commission, but the task requires them to work together. Here, too, the manager must intervene and change the reward systems. This could be a team pot, for example, which promotes what is needed in the situation.
  1. Not a perfect solution?

If an almost perfect solution is not in sight, it may be because it does not exist.
However, it may also have to do with the fact that it takes an enormous amount of experience to deal with such processes. At this point, it can be useful to get support on board.
We are happy to support you!

Conflicts between individual employees

12 tips: Conflicts in the team between individual employees

Two of your employees are in conflict with each other. You may find out from one of them complaining about the situation.
What can you do?
  1. Open debate

Your first step must be: Ask if employees have already talked about it! Don’t let people not talk about it openly!

Ask the employee to talk to their colleague – even if they are reluctant to do so. You can calmly demand that he stand his ground and seek a solution. Set a deadline by which the meeting should have taken place.

  1. Leaving responsibility

Don’t take responsibility away from the employee! The manager should not appear as a savior who tries to resolve the conflict for the employee, as this can make conflicts much worse. You can also read our article on the subject of victims, perpetrators and rescuers in our article The drama triangle: How to escalate a conflict

  1. Intervene

Conflicts are always a leadership responsibility. You cannot allow teamwork to be hindered by the conflict of individual employees. In this respect, you must intervene, but as you are dealing with adults, you should first give them the chance to resolve the conflict themselves.

Conflicts in the team Debate

  1. Joint discussion

If the discussion between the employees has not worked, then it is necessary to have a discussion with both of them together. It is perfectly possible to speak to each of the opposing parties individually before the joint meeting. However, make it clear in a one-to-one conversation that this will not solve the problems, but that a joint discussion must definitely take place. Only then do colleagues have the opportunity to agree on a commitment – and can find a new level with each other.
  1. Neutrality

For such a conversation to go well, the most important basis is your neutrality! If this is not the case, the conflict will intensify; if you take sides, you will get into hot water.

Of course you can make decisions in the interests of the company and the team goals, even if they are in favor of one or the other. It is important here that the decision has a comprehensible factual basis and is not based on their personal connections or sympathies. Show your emotional objectivity and demonstrate that every employee has the same rights.

  1. Listen

In a one-to-one conversation, you should simply listen – and work carefully to ensure that the other person’s position is understood or at least taken into account.
  1. Perspectives

In a joint discussion, let each colleague explain their point of view, how they experience the situation, what their problems are and what bothers them. Reflect objectively what you hear and express your thoughts on the conflict neutrally.
Conflict resolution
  1. Feedback rules

Here they are again: the feedback rules. These are essential for such discussions!
In a nutshell, this means
1. that the employee starts positively and names what is going well in the cooperation with the others, what he likes.
2. then the bare facts should be described – without interpretation.
Step 3 is to explain the consequences of the facts – i.e. the problems the employee has with them. It is important to talk about yourself and not about others.
4. then formulate what the employee needs from the other person.
It is worth paying attention to this issue so that the dispute can be steered in a constructive direction. We have written about this in great detail:
  1. Search for a solution

If the problems have been brought to the table in a constructive manner, then try to find the best possible solution for everyone – a win-win solution – together with your employees.
  1. Seek help

Sometimes such attempts at solutions don’t work. There can be various reasons for this: On the one hand, the manager may have too little experience in resolving conflicts or the employees in dispute may have the impression that the manager is taking sides. Sometimes a conflict is already too far gone. It is advisable to seek external help here.
The view from the outside creates a different level: you can speak more openly here than with your own boss and can really make your position clear. Such a discussion must be subject to absolute confidentiality. This can sometimes help if things have not progressed before. Such deep conflicts generate a great deal of friction and costs in terms of time, resources and emotions, so it is well worth investing in external conflict moderation in the interests of team satisfaction. As you know, we are happy to support you.

Conflict and termination

  1. Separate squabblers

If the conflict has become so entrenched that even an outsider cannot help, the best thing to do is to distance the disputants from each other. This can be done through tasks where they have nothing to do with each other in terms of content, so that they have the opportunity to avoid each other. Carefully check whether this is a viable solution that will not further negatively impact the team. If this is not in sight, then one of the two must be removed from the team.
  1. Transparency

If someone is removed from the team, talk about it openly! This will help you avoid uncertainty in the team. For example, if a team member has raised the conflict and now sees that the colleague has to leave because of it, they may blame themselves or prefer to keep conflicts to themselves in future. Transparency, even for those not involved, is important for the team atmosphere – but without giving details!
Conflict between team and manager

9 tips: Conflicts between team and manager

  1. Eye level

Even if a conflict has arisen between managers and employees, an atmosphere must be created in which everyone can openly say what is bothering them. To achieve this, it is necessary to create a level playing field between managers and employees, as otherwise not everyone dares to express themselves freely.
  1. Management feedback

If the entire team is involved, then it is a good idea to organize a leadership feedback session.
An anonymous employee survey at the start has the advantage that objective figures are available. Questions can be: How disruptive is a behavior? How important is this aspect to individual employees? In this way, the various aspects of the conflict can be presented well.
  1. Dialog

Here, too, the most important thing is to establish a dialog between the team and the manager. Talk to the team!
If you are an open-minded manager to whom employees express their opinions anyway, then you have probably already sought out the conversation first and foremost.

Constructive conflict resolution

  1. Self-reflection

Reflect: How do you deal with conflicts? How do you deal with criticism? Will you listen to the criticism in peace? Do you take it all in first and let it sink in? Or do you tend to justify yourself immediately?
  1. Critical faculties

As a manager, you should be understanding, open to criticism and willing to improve. If this is not the case, if you justify yourself or even spread bad vibes and get angry, your team will no longer be open with you. This, in turn, is bad for the team spirit, because conflicts then smoulder subliminally and this has a negative impact on the team’s performance.
  1. Be self-critical!

Make sure they are a person you can talk to. Unfortunately, most managers assume for no reason that they deal openly with feedback and are capable of taking criticism. Our experience as moderators has shown us that managers then often start to argue, get loud and angry and justify themselves. Remember: such behavior leads to your employees resigning and saying nothing at all!
  1. Conversations – individual or group?

You can either speak to each team member individually or you can speak to the whole group.
Small groups are also a good option: employees can gather in a small group what changes they would like to see and then present these in groups. The advantage of this is that the discussion becomes more factual and employees can support each other if they don’t dare to present their point of view.
For example, you could encourage a dialog in which they want to talk about what is going well and what is not going well in the company; what the employees appreciate about your type of leadership and what they would change. The employees can sit together in groups of three and write down on pieces of paper what they want to present.
If the conflict does not affect the whole team, then seek an individual discussion!

Team meeting Moderation Conflict

  1. Moderation

If you realize that the team is not open to you, that the team does not have the trust in you that it needs at this point, then you cannot avoid using a moderator. This person brings the necessary neutrality and may be able to create a setting with more confidentiality.
If a team is unable to open up, this may be due to the manager, but it may also be due to the team, for example if the team members are still very young and inexperienced.
  1. Establishing trust step by step

Make sure that the atmosphere between you and your team becomes increasingly open. The next conflict is sure to come.
Try to establish trust by not showing dominance, but by establishing eye level and encouraging the other person to express themselves. Show that it is important to you to know if something is bothering you and that you are interested in improvements. Also look for one-on-one conversations and show that you are an open discussion partner!

Conclusion: Conflicts in the team

In conclusion, it can be said quite clearly:
Every conflict that is not addressed continues to fester and intensify! This seriously jeopardizes teamwork.
It is a serious management mistake not to identify and address conflicts in the team! Conflicts must be addressed!
And talking is half the battle: if conflicts in the team are first brought to the table openly, then a joint solution is usually already in sight.
Are you interested in the topic of conflicts in a team or do you need support? We are here for you!

The authors

Oliver_Grätsch_550x550px
Oliver Grätsch
Michelle 550
Michelle Templin
Christian_Grätsch_1_550x550px
Christian Grätsch
Matthias-Beikert-550-550
Matthias Beikert
Susanne_Grätsch_1_550x550px
Susanne Grätsch
Monika Bt 550x550
Monika Steininger
Kai_Hübner_550x550px
Kai Hübner
Philipp Andresen 500x550
Philipp Andresen
berliner_team_Isabell_1
Anna Isabell Arendt
Claudia_Schmidt_550x550px
Dr. Claudia Schmidt
Inga_Kühn_550x550px
Inga Kühn
BT_Web_Team_Knebel_550x550
Kassandra Knebel
BT_Web_Team_Lehmann_550x550
Claudia Lehmann
Komplettes Team

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