Our new five-part blog series kicked off last week and is dedicated to "The Power of Relationships!" Last week we began talking about Patrick M. Lencioni's research that found five dysfunctional areas where teams tend to struggle based on The Five Dysfunctions of a team, and we started with dysfunction #1, The Absence of Trust. This week we will focus on the next pyramid level, dysfunction #2: Fear of Conflict.
“Great teams do not hold back with one another. They are unafraid to air their dirty laundry. They admit their mistakes, their weaknesses, and their concerns without fear of reprisal” - Patrick Lencioni.
There are two forms of conflict in teams: Healthy and unhealthy conflict. The mention of conflict can be enough to make people nervous, especially if you are in a leadership position where there’s an unwritten understanding that you are supposed to do something to alleviate or mitigate the conflict when there is conflict. If you are a department head, a teacher leader, an administrator, a coach, or a teacher in the classroom, there is a chance that you have managed or are managing conflict. The reality is, conflict happens often, and there’s nothing to be fearful of if you know how to engage with conflict in a healthy way. If you encounter unhealthy conflict, you must address this with the team you are leading or facilitating because you want to build a constructive team culture. Without a healthy team culture, you probably won’t have time to have conversations that impact students. When you understand how fear of conflict can hurt your team, it will help you overcome dysfunction that will lead to higher performing teams. It is important to remember that building a healthy team culture that can engage in healthy conflict starts by building trust and overcoming dysfunction #1, the absence of trust discussed in last week’s blog. Today, we will look at what healthy conflict looks and sounds like and provide tips for school teams on addressing conflict.
What is Dysfunction #2 Fear of Conflict?
When teams are dysfunctional because of their fear, it will impact results and productivity within teams. When teams experience fear of conflict, they will hesitate to voice opinions and concerns. Teams will ignore controversial topics even if those topics can determine a team’s success. When an unhealthy conflict exists on teams, they will experience sidebar conversations, politics, interpersonal conflicts, and personal attacks.
Why is this important?
The degree of conflict builds on dysfunction #1(the absence of trust); when a team has trust, they can have a passionate dialogue about issues and decisions. There is the freedom not to hesitate to disagree with, challenge, and question one another in the spirit of finding the solution that will work, finding the truth, and making decisions. However, when there is a lack of trust, it is easy for dysfunction #2 fear of conflict to set in on teams. Eventually, unresolved conflict can lead to uglier and more personal friction. Conflict becomes a problem on teams when the conflict reduces or interferes with productivity, lowers morale, contributes to another conflict, or causes inappropriate actions and behavior. When teams overcome the fear of conflict, they will end up with a team that can quickly solve issues and concerns and a team that can leverage diversity. You’ll have teams comfortable with soliciting everyone’s ideas (buy-in from the entire team is essential). You’ll see your teams willing to discuss critical topics and teams that minimize politics openly. When you're in a leadership role, helping to resolve conflicts when they occur is essential because you don’t want to escalate the conflict to the point that it affects students and their education. You want to deescalate the conflict and work to resolve it productively. It is easier to achieve this when your team, teachers, and students have an existing good rapport with you.
What does healthy conflict look like and sound like?
Teams that engage in healthy conflict still experience conflict. However, it looks and sounds different. Teams demonstrate curiosity, and they play around with ideas (the more ideas, the better). They are willing to change their minds if necessary. They are comfortable asking questions to arrive at a more precise understanding, and above all, teams that engage in healthy conflict can hold student needs (their purpose) at the center of their work. Engaging in healthy conflict allows for discussions to occur more authentically, and this will positively impact students. Having a conversation with the team about what healthy conflict looks like and sounds like can help you meditate. When you can de-escalate and mediate a dispute that arises effectively, it will set your team up for tremendous success. When you can shift the team’s mindset from unhealthy conflict to positively engaging conflict, it will help your team develop healthy dynamics that will increase productivity.
10 Tips for establishing healthy conflict on teams:
Teacher conflict in school is not unheard of, and hopefully, at your school, it is a rare occurrence. However, like any workplace, sometimes you may come across teachers who are engaged in a conflict with someone on the team, a parent, or even a student. For example, they may prefer to work with a particular colleague and have been paired up to work with someone else. Perhaps their educational approaches or personalities don't mesh well with the person they are collaborating with. The bottom line is that if a disagreement rises to a level that draws outside attention, someone must take action to de-escalate and resolve the conflict. Take a look at some of the tips below and see if any of these will help you the next time you are faced with a conflict on your team.
- Remember to use your norms: Use and review your norms during all meetings and group functions so that everyone starts and begins with the same expectation. When a norm is broken, remind the team of your agreed-upon norms and share the team’s impact when a norm isn't followed. When you have and using a set of agreed-upon norms, it can help teams build respect and trust amongst team members.
- Check for understanding: Check whether you understand the other person correctly and whether he or she understands you. Don’t try to be a mind reader/ seek clarity. Tell the other person what you think: don't try to read another's mind or tell others what you think they believe.
- Be mindful: Think about how you tend to handle conflict and be aware of recognizing someone else’s style. Don’t try to resolve the conflict when you are angry. Give yourself time to cool down but don’t check yourself out. It’s essential to resolve the conflict. Do not personalize the situation.
- Focus on the solution: When you are looking at the problem in front of you, remember not to focus on the personality or blame. Remember, you’re looking for a solution, not for a culprit.
- Name the problem: Give the conflict a name (not a name like Suzy or Joe). You want to identify the behaviors that are contributing to the conflict. Be honest! When you get to the root of the problem, it will help ease the conflict.
- Describe the effect the conflict is having on others directly: Remember to be courteous, but you don’t want to overlook or beat around the bush. Avoid confrontation or deflect from the problem. A sense of urgency to resolve the conflict and concrete factual information is vital to share with those involved in the conflict.
- Maintain confidentiality If you are in the midst of a conflict and mediate the situation, you want to maintain a trust level that the conversation will remain confidential unless necessary to resolve the conflict. You want to avoid gossip at all times by encouraging team members to take anything relating to gossip up. A firm policy on gossip will also help build trust and respect in your team. Yes, Inc. practices the core value of no gossip. We value taking negatives up and positives all around.
- Don’t solve their issue: If you are a leader, you might need to mediate conflict within your team. A leader’s role as a mediator is not to solve the problem but to help the parties engaged in conflict arrive at a mutual understanding and resolve it.
- Set clear expectations: As a leader, make it clear that you expect improvement and monitor progress with any non-negotiable expectations.
- Seek a win-win solution: Try to avoid compromises: You’ll want to work on finding a solution that will ensure that all parties get what they need, rather than just some of what they need.
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