5 Helpful Strategies & Resources to Manage Conflict in Groups and Teams | By Jennifer Britton

peopleMH900409492 325x215Every time we bring more than one person together there is the potential for conflict, so against the back drop of group and team coaching, it's likely we will come across conflict in our work.

Conflict is a healthy and normal part of a development process - as long as group and team members have the skills and approaches to work through differences. At the same time, many of us have been socialized to believe that conflict is not a good thing. This article explores several approaches for addressing and helping groups and teams manage conflict in group and team coaching.

Here are 5 Helpful Strategies & Resources to Manage Conflict in Groups and Teams:

1) Normalize conflict:

Conflict is a healthy part of any team or group development process, as long as team members are able to move through it. Years ago Bruce Tuckman's team development model identified the storming stage as a necessary, second step, of the team development process. At this stage, group or team members are trying to figure out how they fit into the group. During the storming stage group members become aware of their own individualism and how they connect with others. There may be natural leaders, the alpha, those who are more focused on task, as well as those who are more focused on relationships.

What we can do: As coaches we can provide team and group members with the opportunity to reflect on the roles they play within the group, and the impact it has on others. When storming happens it's important to reinforce that it's a natural and healthy part of the team development process. Getting mired in the conflict is not. Sparking conversation about what roles we play and what's needed to move forwards can be useful areas to focus on.

Helpful Resources: One tool which looks at different roles in a project cycle is the Team Dimensions Survey from Everything DiSC.

2) Support others in recognizing their own approach to conflict:

Each one of us has our own unique approach to conflict, and we bring this into our work and learning experiences.

What we can do: Helping group members understand their own unique style and approaches to conflict can be an invaluable area to focus on. At the team level it can be very useful to notice the patterns which exist across the team and to discuss the implications with each other.

Helpful Resources: Conflict assessments such as the Thomas Kilmann Instrument (TKI) will help individuals understand what their natural affinity is to approaching conflict. It can also help group members identify what is a more appropriate response based on the importance of the results and relationships involved. At the team level it can be very useful to notice the patterns which exist across the team and to discuss the implications with each other.

3) Support group or team members in identifying their own strengths and unique contributions:

Conflict often emerges in response to different styles at play. For example, when a team member who is a big picture thinker and divergent is paired with a team member who is detail oriented and structured. The differences in styles and strengths can cause tensions.

What we can do: Coaches may find it useful to work with teams and its members in the area of individual strengths and/or working styles.

Helpful Resources: Two popular assessments coaches often use are StrengthsFinder and/or VIA Strengths

4) Support group and team members in identifying and understanding both individual and team values:

Conflict can arise from a lack of understanding around different priorities and values - at the individual, team and organizational level.

What we can do: Coaching can provide opportunities for each person to share their own unique perspectives, roles and values, and to understand the impact they have on others. We can also help group and team members to understand where their own priorities and values align with, and differ from, those of other team members, the team itself and organizational values.

Helpful Resources: Most coaching models have a variety of tools and activities which can be useful here - including working with individual and team roles and identifying individual and team values.

5) Have a defined process for dealing with conflict:

Helping team and group members move positively through conflict and differences using a shared process is important.

What we can do: Help the team or group use a defined process and/or shared model. And provide the group with real time opportunities to explore and work through their differences.

Helpful Resources: There are many excellent conflict models teams can be exposed to including Crucial Conversations  and Fierce Conversations.

NOTE: Ensure you explore what certifications are needed in order to use any resources mentioned in your work.

When conflict arises in groups and teams, it's also important to remember these 3 things:

  1. As coaches we want to adopt a stance of curiosity and non-judgement. There is nothing wrong with conflict itself, rather it is usually the reaction to the conflict that causes issues. As coaches, our role is to support clients in understanding their patterns, triggers, and the impact it is having on results and relationships.
  2. We are not there to solve the conflict, rather to support the team in addressing it themselves, and coming to a resolution. As coaches we can provide a pause point for reflection and support for action and ongoing accountability as the team and group develops healthier habits around conflict.
  3. Our own grounding and presence is imperative. Knowing what triggers us and our own biases towards conflict will help us be more effective in our support of groups and teams who move through conflict.

Finally, to wrap up, as you consider your current work with team and group clients ask these questions:

  • What is needed in the area of conflict?
  • Of the 5 strategies listed, which would be most helpful to explore first?
  • What assessments, concepts, resources and models could you bring to your work?
  • What are my triggers and biases around conflict - and how can I reduce the impact of these in my coaching?

Jennifer Britton, Potentials Realized, Copyright 2015.


JenniferBritton-214x300Contributing author: Jennifer Britton MES, CPCC, PCC is well known for her leadership and writing in the areas of group and team coaching. She is the author of Effective Group Coaching (Wiley, 2009) and From One to Many: Best Practices for Team and Group Coaching (Jossey-Bass, 2014). Jenn is passionate about supporting professionals enhance their work with groups and teams. Join her for the ICF CCE approved Group Coaching Essentials or Advanced Group Coaching Practicum.


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