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How Group Conflict Can Help Solve Problems

  • Posted by: Ellen Kandell

Conflict drains both emotions and resources in an organization. When conflict occurs, 42 percent of a manager’s time is spent on reaching an agreement. And this problem affects most of us. A study by Consulting Psychologists Press found that 85 percent of staff members experience conflict at some point in their careers. An estimated 2.8 hours per week is spent dealing with conflict, which amounts to approximately $359 billion in paid hours. These overwhelming statistics mean that productivity, operational effectiveness and morale suffer at the hands of group conflict. In fact, 27 percent of employees have viewed conflict as a personal attack and 25 percent state that avoiding the conflict resulted in increased absenteeism. 

Thankfully, if you are a manager, supervisor or team leader, there are steps you can take to resolve group conflict. This conflict can actually be a source of growth and positive change if it is managed correctly. We recommend a structured problem solving approach, which is outlined below.

Group conflict resolution techniques

Our first step is to meet with the manager and conduct a thorough needs assessment. By asking broad open-ended questions, we determine the issues that are interfering with team performance or interpersonal relationships. Depending on the team’s size, we then meet with a sampling of team members to gain their perspective on the issue. 

Secondly, we get a picture of the nature of the issues from these interviews. For example, if there are interpersonal issues between people, we recommend mediation as a first step. Next, we draft an agenda which focuses on the team issues. This step might be accomplished through the use of a survey. Again, depending on the team’s size, we may collate the staff and leadership results separately.

If hurt feelings, resentment or distrust exist between two individuals, then addressing them at a team-wide meeting would not be appropriate. However, if there are larger issues regarding cooperation, communication or project management, then those can be addressed by the group at a team-wide meeting or retreat.

The agenda will serve as a road map for a team retreat, which is a day for group brainstorming and introspection. The survey results serve as a thermometer that gauges group characteristics such as goal clarity, roles and responsibilities, risk taking and leadership. Giving employees the chance to provide input on problem solving in their workplace provides an increased sense of value and self-worth. In the average American workplace today, top-down management and dictating protocols will not be successful. Instead, try to build and maintain collaboration within and across work teams to make your organization more efficient and effective.

With a couple of learned techniques, conflict can serve as a catalyst for change and growth, rather than a drain of your organization’s energy and resources. Alternative Resolutions helps teams and organizations handle group conflict so that it can be an engine for productive growth.

Ellen F. Kandell is a certified professional mediator and attorney with over 30 years of public and private sector experience. She is one of eight Maryland mediators featured on a statewide demonstration video of good mediation practice. Ellen is certified by the International Mediation Institute.  She provides mediation, group facilitation and training to diverse clients in Washington, DC and the US. Get in touch with her via email, and follow her on LinkedIn, and Twitter.


Author: Ellen Kandell

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