August 12, 2013
Techniques to reduce group conflict
Q: "I just became the manager of two departments that were merged together because corporate downsizing significantly reduced the number of people in each department. But everyone seems to hate each other, and they constantly argue over the smallest issues. Work is starting to feel like a war zone. How can I get everyone to work better together?"
A: In the past several years I've seen an increase in conflicts within companies, in large part due to increased pressure to achieve financial objectives during the recession, and also having to accomplish more work with fewer resources. Companies are using more cross-functional teams (as opposed to individuals) to solve problems and re-engineer processes, which can lead to internal team issues.
While some amount of conflict can be good, it can become a threat to a department or project's ability to run smoothly if allowed to escalate without resolution. Too much either way can be bad. No conflict can be detrimental, because it might mean the group is afraid to voice their opinions, concerns or objections. Too much conflict can breed negative relationships (as you've discovered first-hand) and decreased productivity.
The key is to try to balance the amount of conflict that exists and resolve problems in positive ways. Try helping the two groups get to know each other better, and then create ways they can work together to resolve issues as they arise. Here are two techniques:
Team-building exercises. These can be a great way to help groups get to know each other and resolve internal conflicts, because they're focused on improving how the team functions together. Exercises can be conducted by you (the manager or project leader), HR experts or even outside consultants, and held within the company's offices, online or at an off-site location.
When developing team-building events, carefully plan out every detail of the exercises and test them ahead of time to ensure feasibility. Create clear goals and ensure that everyone understands what will happen and how they will be expected to participate. Need ideas for team-building exercises? Teampedia is a good resource for free activities and tools.
Integrating techniques. This is where a group works together to identify a problem, determine the key causes, brainstorm and discuss alternatives, and then determine a solution together. I like to break groups into smaller teams and have one team present the "pros" and the other present the "cons" of chosen solutions. This tends to spur even more group discussion and helps reach higher-quality solutions.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant based in the Seattle area.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
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