Nine Ways Managers Can Help Resolve Conflicts Between Teams
“It’s not uncommon for a company to have two teams which seem to be at odds with each other,” says Glenn Parker, co-author with Richard Kropp of Team Workout (AMACOM). “For example, a company’s production team may frequently be in conflict with its marketing team about various goals and decisions.
“If some teams in your organizations are having difficulty with each other, consider doing the following exercise to help them resolve their conflict.”
- Get teams to agree to come together to resolve the problem.“Recognizing they have a problem and being willing to do something about it is essential,” says Parker. “At the beginning of the session, explain that the purpose is to resolve the problem, and make sure to set some positive norms for the session, such as agreeing to listen to each other, not interrupting, and to keep the focus on the issues.”
- Ask one team to move to another room, and then ask each team to prepare an answer to two key questions.Give each team a few sheets of flip-chart paper and ask them to prepare a list of answers, in about 20 to 30 minutes, to the following questions:
- What does the other team do that inhibits our ability to get our job done, or, in general, just “bugs”us?
- What do we do that inhibits the other team’s ability to get its job done, or, in general, just “bugs”them?
“Another way of asking this question is, ‘What do we think that the other team will say about us?'” says Parker.
- Team members reassemble together and post their flip charts on the wall.“Participants walk around and read the lists,” says Parker.
- Team members are encouraged to ask questions for clarification of the items on the list“Make sure that the questions are for clarification and not for the purpose of argument,” says Parker. “For example, someone may ask for further elaboration on a flip-chart item.”
- Identify key issues standing in the way of effective inter-group teamwork.“Team members discuss these and list the most important ones on a flip chart,” says Parker. “If there are a lot of issues, make sure to rank them in order of importance.
“Note that there is not likely to be a disagreement on whether something is an issue,” says Parker. “Rather, the teams will have different perceptions about the issue.
“For example, team ‘A’ will explain that they can’t get their report in on schedule because team ‘B’ isn’t giving them all the information they need on time. Team ‘B,’ on the other hand, may say that the information they do supply is quite sufficient.”
- Subgroups composed of members from each team form to develop action plans for each issue.Write each issue on a separate sheet of flip-chart paper and post them around the room. “Participants may work on the issue that interests them by moving to the area where the flip-chart paper is posted,” says Parker.
“Subgroups are formed on this basis to develop action plans, but make sure that each subgroup contains a reasonably equal number of people from each team, and that the groups are not too large — perhaps a maximum of six people.
“Now, members from the two basic teams are getting to know each other as they work together in a subgroup to resolve an issue. This, in itself, helps to alleviate tensions.”
- Subgroups are asked to come up with a problem statement.“This includes causes of the problem, and an action plan, including responsibilities and a timetable,” says Parker. “So, if the problem concerns deal with late delivery of the report to senior management, instead of focusing on who is right or wrong, teams focus on causes and what can be done about it. The solution may involve further training for some people, or getting additional help, or improving communication with another area of the company.”
- Each subgroup prepares a report on its plan. The other subgroups react.“This part usually goes pretty smoothly because you are dealing with subgroups made up of members from both teams,” says Parker.
- Conclude with a summary, debriefing and a review of the next steps based on the action plans.“One of the keys to success of this whole procedure is the fact that team members work together in new groupings,” says Parker. “This helps to break down barriers and increase cooperation.”
Reprinted from Supervisor’s Guide to Quality and Excellence, Volume VII, Issue 5, March 4, 2002, pp. 2-3, published bi-weekly by Clement Communications, Inc., 10 LaCrue Avenue, Concordville, Pa 19331, http://www.clement.com/ .
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Material Copyright © 2001 Glenn Parker