More often than not, high performing teams operate in high pressure environments. Many times on a high performing team you have some strong personalities at play. When you combine pressure plus strong personalities, there are plenty of opportunities for conflict between the members of your team.
Your job as a leader is not to mediate those conflicts and be a referee. Instead you need to teach the members of your team how to resolve those conflicts with one another because it’s going to help them build relationships. Ultimately it will build their interpersonal skills.
Teaching them to work things out on their own keeps you from having to dedicate a significant amount of time and energy every time somebody has a conflict with another member of the team. Your job when there’s conflict is first to recognize it. Identify when you have team members who are butting heads and figure out what the root issue is. Then suggest that they go figure it out and come back to you when they have developed a solution on their own.
Hopefully if they’re really high performers they can go in a room, hash it out, and come up with a solution that will be acceptable to both of them. However there will be certain opportunities that you’re going to have to take advantage of to get involved in it and teach them how to resolve conflict better. When you do so, first sit them down and acknowledge the conflict and get to the root of the issue.
Focus on the facts: “Here are the facts. Let’s remove the emotions from it. What do we disagree on?”
Have them define a goal for resolution and what the desired behavior should be in terms of how they perform with one another: “What I’d like is to get the analysis sooner from you” or “what I’d like is if your team would give us the right set of resources so we can execute more quickly.” Drive it to the level of specific behaviors where they have points of difference with one another.
Teach them how to give constructive feedback to one another going forward so they can apply it in their day to day conversations with each other. As they’re able to take the emotion out of things, focus on the facts and the desired resolution, they’ll get better at resolving those conflicts on their own. Then you can spend your time coaching them as needed.
There will be times where they won’t be able to resolve the conflict on their own. In those situations you’re going to need to mediate that conflict. This is a last resort. If they can’t resolve the issue, talk them through the resolution but do so one step at a time. Don’t just jump to the end and say “I know what the answer is. Here’s my decision. Go make it happen.” When you do that, you’re not building their skills. Instead, talk them through it: “Okay, what’s the issue?” Have them describe it and have them figure it out.
Then ask what are the emotions that are involved and why those emotions are coming up. Let them talk through that. Ask them “how are those emotions getting in the way of a resolution?”
For each step of that conflict resolution process you should walk them through that conversation rather than just giving them the answers. At the end when they’ve identified the solution that’s acceptable to both of them, get their commitment to resolving the issue that way.
As they leave, set expectations that the next time there’s conflict between them that they go through this process on their own before they involve you to mediate the conflict. By doing so, you’re going to build their skills and their capabilities. You’ll spend less time mediating conflict going forward and your team members will be able to focus more on execution than arguing.
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