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

Team working through conflict

Every time we bring more than one person together there's the potential for conflict. So against the backdrop of group and team coaching, it's likely we'll 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. In a group there may be natural leaders, the alpha, those who are more focused on task, as well as those who are more focused on relationships.

Bruce Tuckman's Team Development Model identifies the Storming Stage as a necessary, second step, of the team development process. This is the stage when group or team members are trying to figure out how and where they fit into the group, and become aware of their own individualism and how well they connect with others.

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. Whereas 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 a more appropriate response based on the importance of the results and relationships involved.

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

Conflict often emerges in response to different styles and individual approaches to goals and problem solving. For example, imagine a big picture thinker who likes to diverge, explore and get creative paired with a team member who is detail-oriented and structured. Even though this may be a great pairing for problem-solving, 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 to identify 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 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 conflict model.
  • Also provide the group with specific opportunities to explore and work through their differences.

Helpful Resources: There are many excellent conflict models teams can use 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's nothing wrong with conflict itself, rather it's 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 these have 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 as they move through conflict.

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

  • What is needed for this team or group 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 learn more about and bring to your work?
  • What are my own triggers and biases around conflict—and how can I reduce the impact of these in my coaching?

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Jennifer Britton

Contributing Author:

Jennifer Britton, MES, CHRP, CPT, PCC, is the author of seven books and has influenced a generation of coaches in the realms of team and group coaching. You may have read her writing, including Effective Group Coaching (Wiley, 2010), the first book in the world to be published on the topic of group coaching; From One to Many: Best Practices for Team and Group Coaching; or her latest, Reconnecting Workspaces: Pathways to Thrive in the Virtual, Remote and Hybrid World (2021).

Since 2006, Jennifer's Group Coaching Essentials and Advanced Group and Team Coaching Practicum programs have become known as the must-do training in the area of group coaching. Focused on providing coaches with best practices in designing, marketing and implementing group coaching, these programs have helped thousands of coaches launch their own group and team coaching programs in a wide variety of settings (public, corporate, non-profit). Together both courses are approved for 18.75 ICF CCEUs. These are the first two of 10 course pathways leading to certificates in Group and Team Coaching.

Potentials Realized's ICF-CCE programs are geared for aspiring group and team coaches, especially those wanting to work toward the New Advanced Credential in Team Coaching (ACTC) with the ICF.

Also check out our neuroscience course for group and team coaches (NLE-A), Team Coaching Essentials  and ACTIVATE Your Team and Group Coaching Superpowers. Prefer podcasts? Listen in to the Remote Pathways podcast, which explores the many different pathways to remote work, business and leadership.

Learn more about Jennifer & see all their articles here >>

Image of Team working through conflict by Monkey Business Images via Shutterstock


    • Tina Faye Hall

      Team Dimensions is no longer being sold. I agree with Kristeen that the Five Behaviors Team Development assessment and training is a great tool for use with teams. It incorporates Pat Lencioni's The Five Dysfunctions of a Team model. But it's not a direct substitute for Team Dimensions.


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