Guest post by Jagoda Perich-Anderson
You’ve been appointed to lead a cross-functional team to recommend ways to improve a significant, customer affecting, work process. There’s just one problem: everyone has widely different ideas about what to do. To make it worse, two people can’t stand each other and each has an ally in the group. If you’re not careful, you’ll end up with a rigidified, polarized conflict.
If you act as soon as you recognize the situation, you can shift the team energy away from unproductive conflict and toward creative problem solving.
You have two kinds of conflict to consider. One, the interpersonal dislike, poses the greater danger and you have to address it. The other, the divergent opinions, is exactly what you need to generate innovative ideas. Channel these toward a mutual search for solutions.
Studies show that divergence of perspectives—that is conflict—is necessary for innovation.
How to Address the Relationship Conflict
- Outside the team meeting, ask the two people involved whether they can set aside their differences for the sake of the mission. Remind them what’s at stake and also how team success will benefit their careers.
- Make it clear you expect them to be professional and respectful with each other. Tell them you expect them to work out their problems with each other if they want to remain on the team.
- Ask them for their commitment. If they agree, let them know you will hold them to it.
- Expect them to struggle but to hold it together. Be prepared to intervene during meetings to defray their difficulties. Make statements like, “Leave that discussion outside the meeting. Let’s refocus on ‘___________’ (substantive topic on which team is working)”. Call on another team member to keep the momentum going.
This may seem hard to do but you have a couple of things working in your favor as team leader to ease the way. First, everyone on the team, including these two, know there’s a problem and expect you to do something about it. If you don’t, you risk losing your leadership authority. Second,
How to Channel Diverse Opinions toward a Search for Creative Solutions
- Tell the team that a quantity of different ideas is needed for finding solutions that work for all work units with a role in this problem.
- Clarify and build commitment to the team’s objectives and expected outcomes.
- Explain you will use a 4-part process:
- Generate lots and lots of ideas, using a variety of group creativity tools http://www.conflicttango.com/fun-with-creative-problem-solving/
- Develop objective criteria for selecting ideas for testing
- Explore promising and unusual ideas and test them out with respective constituents
- Iterate until the team crafts solutions that fit the criteria and select the ones to recommend
- Explain how the final decisions will be made if they are outside the purview of the team or if the team is unable to reach consensus.
- Help the team define a set of ground rules for acceptable behavior. Include items such as:
- Leave egos outside the door and separate ideas from the authors (this is a team, not individual process)
- Unconventional ideas are welcome
- Share factual information
- Tell the group when you’re stating an opinion not a fact
- Respectful disagreement is okay in service to learning about the problem and potential solutions
- Meet deadlines
- Anything else team members feel is important
Related to items c and d above, research shows that the more factual information is brought into the discussions, the less interpersonal conflict will occur.
Throughout the process, actively manage the team’s interactions. Ensure everyone participates, stays on track, shares information and remains respectful.
Jagoda Perich-Anderson is passionate about combining creativity and conflict management skills to empower innovative solutions. If you want more ideas on how to transform conflict to creativity, come get her FREE eBook with 26 ways to do just that: Conflict to Creativity from A to Z.
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