4 ways to overcome workplace conflict

I came across some interesting research by Cascade HR in the July 2017 edition of People Management magazine. The research looked at the top causes of workplace conflict in the UK and found the following sources were:

  1. 32% – unfair workloads and differences in working hours
  2. 31% –  gossip and rumours were a source
  3. 27% – friendships groups and cliques
  4. 23% – preferential treatment for some staff
  5. 22% – negative attitudes towards the organisation
  6. 21% – salary/wage differences
  7. 20% – promotions and progression
  8. 19% – staff leaving and new staff arriving
  9. 18% – unfair distribution of training and development
  10. 15% – extra breaks for smokers

Any of these resonate with you? Yes? Well, here are four simple things you can do to overcome these issues and create harmony in your workplace:

#1 Communicate and then communicate some more

When I’m called in to work with managers and their teams, particularly those in conflict, more often than not there is little to no regular communication between the manager and the team.

If you’re going to be a people manager then that means you have to put the time and effort in to ensure that your team are kept up-to-date on what’s going on, who’s working on what etc.

Some of the best managers I’ve worked with use a variety of the following approaches:

  • A Friday email round-up of key things to have happened that week – both in the team and in the wider organisation. This is kept short, in bullet point format.
  • A ‘Hello Monday’ email outlining the key things expected to happen in the week ahead and offering support to those working on particularly projects.
  • Weekly or monthly blog post using the company’s intranet platform.
  • Daily updates using a tool like Yammer.
  • Daily or weekly face-to-face ‘huddles’ for everyone (including the manager) to outline key things they need to deliver that day or week. This is particularly good for teams doing intensive project work, such as in IT or communications.

The best managers know that you can never communicate enough and will use a variety of digital and face-to-face methods. By sharing what’s going on, you are more likely to grow a culture of trust and understanding across the team. This previous post will give you some more ideas.

#2 Engage don’t just broadcast

It’s not enough to just rely on the methods outlined in the first tip. That’s you simply broadcasting.

You need to encourage two-way conversation. Ways that other managers do this include:

  • Posing questions at the end of blog posts or emails, such as ‘How do you think this project is going?’ or ‘What do you think I could do to help you?’
  • Setting up weekly or monthly meetings where team members (or representatives) have an opportunity to talk about the things that matter to them. These are outside of the normal task focused team meetings.
  • Encouraging staff to post questions or make points on platforms like Yammer. Not only is this an opportunity for the manager to engage with and answer questions but it enables everyone to see the conversation thread.

And if your team is under lots of pressure then this old post gives useful advice on how to engage during times of stress.

#3 Explain don’t just assume

One of the main issues I come across when I help teams in conflict is the number of assumptions that get made.

This can be compounded if there are in-groups (those who hear things first from a manager, such as why a training course has been cut) and out-groups (those who hear things later on down on the line, if at all).

If you manage a team then here are some useful rules for you to follow:

  • If you’ve shared information with one or two members of staff then you need to make sure you share that same information with everyone else.
  • Don’t assume that just because you’ve communicated something that it’s been understood. This links to the first two tips. Repeat messages and ask your team questions.
  • Explain and inform using different formats. Remember, not everyone likes to receive information in the same way you do. Some will like visual, some words; some will like lengthy descriptions, others high-level bullet points. You need to adapt to the way your team likes to consume info – not the other way round.

#4 Schedule in regular team building and development

I can’t say this enough. A one-off team building session is not enough and yet lots of managers I speak to think this is the case. And that team building need only happen when a team is new, or there has been some major change.

No. No. No. No. No!

If you want to create a climate of trust, understanding and shared accountability then that requires effort.

It means scheduling in a variety of events and activities throughout the year. It means having a mix of in-work and after-work events – formal and informal.

Here are some of the things the best managers do:

  • Schedule in an annual one-day team building day – booking this way in advance so that people can organise their lives outside work (e.g. parents, carers etc.)
  • Schedule in quarterly team development sessions – these can range from two hours to half a day and focus on checking priorities are still relevant, or learning a new skill.
  • Have a social calendar – with team members working together to organise events once a month. Some teams vote on a ‘social secretary’ with a new person taking on the role each year or half-year.
  • Have a special events calendar – this can be geared around things like Christmas or Ramadam, or charity events like the Macmillan tea party. Again, team members can take it in turns to organise these. Things like special events can be a great way to help people understand more about each other.

In my experience, the majority of conflict I come across comes down to simple misunderstandings that escalate out of control. By communicating more, engaging effectively and putting in place ways for people to understand each other, you’ll be well on your way to creating harmony.

What are the things you’ve done that have helped overcome conflict and create a happy, harmonious workplace? Share your tips in the comments section below.


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