Tag Archives: team conflict

Making Matters Worse

“Why do you think they were too scared to talk about the real problem stopping this project?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” Alicia replied. “I guess I really need to work on creating a more open environment. But I think I have a personality problem. It’s hard to talk about a personality conflict in the middle of a meeting. That’s why it was so weird. We couldn’t talk about the real problem, so we couldn’t talk about anything at all.”

“So, how do you intend to create an environment where your team can deal with the real problem and get back to productive work?”

“I guess I need to pull the two project leaders aside and talk to them in private,” Alicia nodded.

“What if I told you, in the long run, that would make matters worse?”


Ron took a moment to reflect on the way he felt during the heated discussion the week before at the management team meeting. “We have already established that there was a knot in my stomach. When Jim and Fred went after each other, at first I was surprised. Then, I went into self protection mode, wondering if the expressed emotions would swing around to me. As the leader, sometimes I feel like everyone depends on me to control situations like this, especially if they are out of control.”

“That’s a good start,” I said.

“Oh. I wouldn’t tell the team that, I thought this was just between you and me,” Ron replied.

“Right now, it is just between you and me. What version of that would you consider sharing with the team?”

“Well, I wouldn’t want them to see me as some sort of a weak leader,” Ron reflected. “So, I would probably leave out the part about me not being in control.”

“Do you really think you were ever in control,” I asked. “Control is a funny thing, sometimes just an illusion. Do you think it is important that the team always sees you in control, even when you are not?”

“Can’t I at least pretend?”

“You can, but how will the team come to some resolution if you pretend to be in control?”

How Did You Feel?

“So, there will be a little knot in each team member’s stomach,” I said. “They will remember the discussion at the team meeting last week that was none too friendly, so you quickly adjourned. What are you going to do differently this week, assuming you are not going to avoid the discussion?”

Ron had to think. “I don’t want to avoid the conflict, but I do want to manage it.”

“And, how do you intend to manage it?” I asked.

“We need some sort of ground rules for the meeting when people disagree. I want to keep the emotions out of it,” Ron replied.

“What if emotions are all part of the conflict?” I smiled. “Because if there is a conflict, there are usually emotions attached.”

“But, it’s emotions that caused the conflict,” he insisted.

“Think about this shift,” I probed. “Emotion is part of the conflict, not necessarily the cause. And, if we don’t acknowledge the emotion, it will get stuffed down. Stuffed down emotion causes people to armor up, get defensive and go into self-protection. Could you ask a question to the group that would require each person to just check-in on what they were feeling last week during the altercation and how they feel today as we work toward resolution.”

“You mean like ask them to talk about their feelings?”

I nodded. “Yes. Like this. How did you feel last week during the discussion between Jim and Fred when things got heated?

“Is that a question for me, right now?”

I nodded again. “Yes.”

The Killing Fields of the Project

“I know you are right, that I should challenge my team to solve its own problem with its inability to work together in support of each other, but it is a very uncomfortable conversation,” Miriam wondered out loud. “Everyone’s stomach will be upside down, so, in your words, the threat of a real issue exists. I am just afraid that the whole thing will blow up in my face and I will be the one left to pick up the pieces.”

“It is a risk,” I replied, “and, not​ greater than the risk that mid-project, the team will reach the same impasse for this same reason. And, the higher the pressure of the project, the more likely the impasse. Do you want the team to confront the issue now, while things are calm, or meet the problem in the killing fields of the project?” -Tom