11. What Can Go Wrong? (v): Conflicts
Potential conflict underlies all group processes. If people fail to agree about their respective roles, or fail to negotiate about their respective agendas, or think that others are going off looking for other jobs, this conflict can become real, resulting in a series of problems and loss of productivity.
There are a number of simple guidelines to help deal with group conflict. Teams need to:
- Agree on the basics - that is, identify their own rules or norms and roles; only if all members are equally comfortable with both the informal rules and roles will the teams develop commitment. Remember also that formal titles and processes will impact upon informal roles and rules.
- Agree on the common ground - a team will need to continue to search for, and identify, issues in common. Emphasising common issues will tend to shift attention away from hidden agendas and towards a common purpose. Common purpose should not be confused with common attitude. As we have seen, one of a team’s major strengths is its diversity.
- Experiment - where conflict is intractable, it is best to try out new solutions. Experimentation is a powerful tool for obtaining more information where conflict is intractable. It gives the information upon which the group can make a decision to resolve the conflict.
- Doubt their own infallibility - there can be times when a team can turn into five leaders in search of a follower. When this happens, it can help if one of the group at least asks, 'What is going on here? Are we sure we are right?'
- Treat differences as a group responsibility - in the event of conflict between two members, it will be a temptation for the other group members to step aside and avoid the conflict. As we have already seen, though, a group is like a car - if it careers off the road, all its constituent parts will suffer. It is the responsibility of the entire group to resolve differences. Even if an issue seems to be entirely personal, it will spill over into the group’s ability to work effectively.