Managing Conflict

I’m studying the Optimizing Diversity on Teams course on Coursera. These are my revision notes for week 3.

Why Conflicts Occur

  • It is difficult to establish common social norms in a diverse group
  • Conflicts can arise from deep level human needs, such as
    • workers personal beliefs coming into conflict with professional expectations
  • Team culture determines the rules (whether written or unspoken) that guide who you’re going to work together and solve problems
  • Humans instinctively form groups and establish rules
  • How does a group establish ground rules when basic assumptions about teamwork vary from person to person?
  • Affective trust: the gut instinct or implicit feeling that you can trust someone
  • Conflicts in diverse teams often form due to the challenge of forming trust (especially affective trust), due do basic differences in communication styles.
  • Expressing disagreement in different cultures:
    • high value on saving face and group harmony, but express disapproval through non-verbal cues
    • more direct ways of disagreement
  • Danone and Wahaha joint venture
    • Danone chairman publicly accused Wahaha owner of funneling funds into another venture
    • Lack of trust meant that neither party could come to agreement
    • Trust might have allowed better understanding, and have avoided the problem
  • Other common reasons for cross-cultural conflict:
    • Differences in communications styles
      • direct versus indirect
      • fluency and accent differences from dominant language
    • Attitudes towards hierarchy
    • Conflicting decision making norms
  • One third of cross-cultural teams rate themselves as unsuccessful.
  • Create strategies to build trust
  • Establish rules in a more inclusive way
  • IDEO example:
    • employees are trained on emotional intelligence to help establish trust
    • norm to listen and not judge ideas before they have been fully explored
    • If norm is broken, members will publicly draw attention to this (delicately)
  • Conflicts often arise from deep human needs, that are often just below the surface
  • Investing in and developing trust gives a team the best chance to overcome conflict and achieve high performance

Conflict Types and Origins

  • Conflict arises from a discrepancy among individuals regarding needs, beliefs and concerns
  • Conflict arises from difference across three critical team components:
    • The team goals
    • The way the team will achieve goals
    • The way team members behave
  • If not addressed, conflicts can generate dysfunction and potentially break the team apart
  • Example of conflict breaking a team apart:
    • CEO of team (Beth) had a disagreement with a member of team (John)
    • Beth and John both wanted CEO role
    • Team appointed Beth due to her high level of knowledge and preparation
    • Beth was forthcoming about what she felt needed to be done to accomplish the group goals
    • The remaining 5 members agreed with her direction, and gave feedback
    • Problem with balance of input in the group:
      • 3 of the groups 6 members could not speak English fluently, so input from them was slower and sparse
      • However, input from John was high, and he challenged nearly every decision made by Beth
      • John interrupted team conversations a lot (despite not having prepared for the simulation)
    • David de facto babysat John, while John continued to antagonise Beth
    • Beth took on more and more of the workload. She couldn’t wait for the non-English speakers to keep up with her
    • Everyone really needed to take things more slowly, but Beth had trouble slowing down
    • Because of the negative interactions between John and Beth, and the communication problems in general, Beth ended up trying to do everything herself
    • John left the the team because of his negative behaviour
    • Beth also decided to leave the team, because she was so upset and could not recover in the short time frame
    • John was difficult, but Beth’s unwillingness to slow down caused her to burn out by taking on too much of the teams responsibilities
  • Have you ever avoided conflict, and taken on too much yourself?
  • What could the team have done?
    • Team learning, taking time to reflect on dynamics, could have prevented some of the damage if the team was able to establish compatible ways of thinking.
    • Better use of people like David, who are able to bridge gaps, could have helped
    • Addressed the representational gaps (see next section)

Addressing Representational Gaps

  • Representational gaps: gaps in perception about team problems, including the team’s ultimate task and what’s important to execute team goals
  • Representational gaps arise from:
    • differences in knowledge sets
    • differences in value sets
    • conflicting interpretations of new knowledge
  • How to reconcile incompatible views?
  • An intentional effort is needed on teams to reconcile different perspectives.
    • This is important because functionally diverse teams often lack shared knowledge
    • Compatibility is established by providing adequate time for team members to build relationships and get to know each other
  • Key is for team members to mutually understand the values, beliefs and attitudes represented in the team
  • There needs to be a shared understanding of how individuals within teams identify problems
  • Four keys to representing any problem: GAEO
    • Goal hierarchy: how we prioritise goals
    • Assumptions: how we assume others behave, or how we assume others are limited in time or resources
    • Elements: components of the problem that are changeable
    • Operators: the ways that the components of the problem can change
  • Companies can set ground rule expectations that establish these shared ways of understanding problems.
    • Teams can recognise that different behaviours may exist, and these behaviours are unique to particular countries or cultures
    • This recognition and acceptance of differences helps to establish shared knowledge, and creates opportunities for mutual understanding among team members
  • At an organisational level managerial staff must set an example for valuing diversity on teams.
    • Examples:
      • Mentoring relationships
      • Job shadowing
      • Relationship building time
      • 360 feedback
    • Watch out for the potential to blur roles and to reduce creative solutions
  • Managers need to be strategic in drawing out their teams’ creativity
  • Jim Shaw, former executive vice president of MTV networks
    • a “left-brain” guy in a “right-brain” organisation
    • Initially responded to creative suggestions by discussing possible ways where the idea could go wrong
    • This had the effect of shutting down the idea
    • Instead of diving in with his perspective on the suggestion, Jim learned to incrementally share contingency planning information.
    • This way creative people can fully explain themselves and get their ideas on the table
    • No two people on Jim’s team thinks alike, and this needs to be accounted for
  • Example from the last section of team that broke apart (Beth & John):
    • Remaining four called themselves the “Small Beautiful Team”
    • Set out to reestablish goals, roles and norms for their team
    • They managed representational gaps between them through establishing frequent check-ins for information sharing and goal setting
    • The norms of active and deliberate listening where critical to their building compatibility across their views and mutual understanding of each other’s perspectives
    • Decisions were much slower and more deliberate than before.
    • One conversation when the new CEO (Nigel) called attention
    • Roles because more evenly distributed and more clearly defined
    • Representational gaps will inevitably exist, but with thoughtful intention, compatibility across individuals and high function can be achieved when mutual understanding is the goal

Conflict Resolution Strategies

  • Three ways to resolve conflict:
    1. Apologise
    2. Use joint fact finding
    3. Get a mediator
  • Apologising
    • Apologies have two functions in conflict management
      1. Demonstrating remorse
      2. Taking responsibility for the consequences of our actions
    • Apologising has potential for profound consequences. A sincere apology can be really effective in
      • establishing trust
      • developing stronger relationships within your teams
      • improving performance
    • A sincere apology has:
      1. an acknowledgement of wrongdoing
      2. the acceptance of responsibility
      3. an expression of regret
      4. a promise that the offence will not be repeated
    • There are four purposes for public leaders in particular to assume the risk of offering a public apology:
      1. Individual: a leader personally admits a wrongdoing so that others will forgive and forget
      2. Institutional: a leader apologises on behalf of a group to repair the groups coherent and customer reputation
      3. Intergroup: a leader takes responsibility for a mistake that their team inflicted on others
      4. Moral: a leader will have an authentic reason to apologise, and believe it is the right thing to do.
    • There are no cases where a good apology went wrong
    • Discomfort is inevitably part of repairing any conflict
  • Joint fact-finding
    • Joint fact-finding: a multi-step collaborative process for parties to come together and decide how information should be gathered, analysed and interpreted.
    • Set ground rules on a fact-finding agenda around a dispute
    • By investigating the technical details behind issues, the process is designed to produce more credible and agreements
    • Joint fact-finding is more likely to reduce conflict since decisions are grounded in facts, rather than emotions
    • Joint fact-finding may not be appropriate when an more powerful or knowledgeable party might use it as leverage to maintain a power imbalance
  • Mediation
    • What type of mediator?
      • You don’t actually need an empathetic mediator
      • A hostile mediator might help a team bond together better
      • Creating adversity might help team to have difficult conversations that get the team on the same page
    • The focus on conflict resolution should be getting the team to work together better

Addressing Oppression-Based Conflict

  • Team based simulation exercise:
    • Pat (an African-American woman) initially offered a lot of suggestions and participated, but became quieter and withdrew as time went on
    • White make colleagues were more successful at getting their ideas accepted
    • No one reached out to Pat to understand why she had become withdrawn
    • The team unintentionally suffered from oppression based conflict
  • The team was not successful, for two reasons:
    • all the team members were not fully engaged in the groups goals
    • the team did not find ways to ensure that diverse and varied perspectives were included in shaping strategy
  • This dynamic happens all too often in teams.
    • There are always going to be prevailing power dynamics that favour the opinions of the dominant or majority group, and discourage participation of marginal or minority members of the group

Interview with Marybeth Gasman

  • How to overcome pressure-based conflict in your organisation

5 Keys To Dealing with Workplace Conflict by Mike Myatt

  • 5 Keys of Dealing with Workplace Conflict
    • Causes of conflict
      • Communication
      • Emotions
    • How to handle conflict
      1. Define acceptable behaviour
      2. Hit conflict head-on
      3. Understand the WIIFM factor (What’s in it for me?)
      4. The importance factor
      5. View conflict as opportunity

Representational Gaps, Information Processing and Conflict in Functionally Diverse Teams

  • Representational Gaps, Information Processing, and Conflict in Functionally Diverse Teams
    • Abstract: Functional diversity in teams, while potentially beneficial, increases the likelihood that individual team members will perceive the team’s task differently, leading to gaps between teammates’ interpretations of what is needed for the team to be successful. These representational gaps are likely to create conflict as teammates try to solve what are essentially incompatible problems. Understanding how these general mechanisms work should deepen our understanding of information processing and conflict in diverse teams.

One thought on “Managing Conflict

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s