Team Conflict Symptoms, Causes, Strategy & Conflict Resolution Process

Dealing with Conflict

Successful managers can effectively manage conflict. This ability is considered a core competency and is required for managers who want to grow and advance. Unfortunately, it is also one of the most difficult skills a manager can develop.


Kindly list individually the symptoms of team conflict that you have ever experienced in your team. Combine your list with your group to come up with a consolidated list of symptoms.

Team Conflict Symptoms
  1. Not completing work on-time or completed work does not measure up to quality goals
  2. Office/team Gossip & drama
  3. Not returning phone calls or e-mails
  4. Aggressive behavior
  5. Disagreements, regardless of issue
  6. Lack of clear goals
  7. Desire for power
  8. Failure to keep timelines
  9. Absenteeism and tardiness
  10. Not responding to requests for information
  11. Hostility towards the team members
  12. Hoarding information that should be shared
  13. Complaining about things
  14. Finger pointing and blaming
  15. Verbal abuse of others in team
  16. Filing grievances or lawsuits
  17. Physical violence
Team Conflict Symptoms, Causes, Strategy & Conflict Resolution Process
Team Conflict Symptoms, Causes, Strategy & Conflict Resolution Process

Each behavior, by itself, does not necessarily indicate conflict. People don’t always complete work on time or answer all phone calls. Sometimes they miss meetings or deadlines. These individual behaviors might be acceptable—unless a behavior is taken to an extreme and causes severe or irreparable damage.

We can see multiple symptoms of team conflict in one case. Sometimes or mostly situation will not resolve itself and so requires intervention before serious damage occurs to the teams and projects.

The best way to identify the symptoms of team conflict is to be aware of the kinds of behaviors that lead to conflict. When we identify extreme behaviors or multiple symptoms, we know we need to investigate.

Causes of Team Conflict

Conflict occurs because of an inability to address needs or goals, or because goals are unclear, unacceptable, unrealistic, or are in opposition to the parties involved. Together, we could create a long list of things that cause team conflict.

Kindly list some of the common causes of team conflict that you have experienced in your teams:

  1. Poor or no communication
  2. Lack of problem-solving skills
  3. Lack of clarity in purpose, goals, objectives,
  4. Lack of team and individual roles
  5. Lack of resources and sources for help and support
  6. Poor or lack of time management
  7. Turnover
  8. Lack of leadership and management
  9. Boredom
  10. Team members not challenged, not interested
  11. Lack of skills and abilities in team members
  12. Personality
  13. Personal problems
  14. Differing objectives, Etc.

Some of these can be seen as both cause and result of conflict

Team Conflict Symptoms, Causes, Strategy & Conflict Resolution Process
Team Conflict Symptoms, Causes, Strategy & Conflict Resolution Process

Strategy to Address Team Conflict

As a Line manager, what do I do to address team conflict? We’ve listed causes; now let’s generate a plan to deal with the causes.

We will use the following steps to address team conflict:

  1. Define the problem
  2. Gather data
  3. Analyze the data
  4. Choose the best solution
  5. Implement the solution and continue to refine it
Define the Problem

Defining a problem is the hardest part of the solution. Most of us jump into solving the problem rather than taking the time to first clearly defining the problem. It is very important because, the process of defining the problem also contains the seeds of the solution.

A project team is focused on a new product that must be rolled out within the next three months. Some team members have been late with deliverables and team meetings are negative and sometimes degrade to shouting matches among members.

Project features and functions that should have been included have been omitted or missed. In addition, team members do not always attend meetings or report on status, and it is very clear that cliques have formed with agendas that are not in the best interests of the team.

List of Possible Conflict Problems
  1. The project team is missing assignments
  2. Team meetings are non-productive
  3. Some team members are not doing their jobs
  4. Some people are always late to meetings
  5. Team leadership is not strong enough
  6. The team is not working together effectively

In Scenario, we see that each of the statements describes a part of the problem. We might agree that the last one is a good general description of what’s going on. Each of the other statements helps us to break down the problem into more manageable chunks for work assignments.

  • The team is not working together effectively (problem statement)
    • The project team is missing assignments. (sub-headings)
    • Team meetings are non-productive.
    • Some team members are not doing their jobs.
    • Some people are always late to meetings.
    • Team leadership is not strong enough
Gather Data

The second step to addressing team conflict is to gather data on what is occurring. This means collecting facts that can be substantiated, not hearsay or opinions.

The intent is to gather facts that are actual, observable, and measurable. We need to know about individual performances,

  • Who’s meeting deadlines and goals,
  • Who works independently,
  • Who comes up with good ideas, who initiates,
  • Who takes on extra work or goes that extra mile,
  • Who’s inside or outside of the group,
  • Who lunches together, and
  • Who are our informal leaders?

Another part of data gathering is to review what you, as Manager, have been doing. Data- gathering is the manager’s job and requires discretion.

  • How do you communicate with your team?
  • How do they communicate with each other?
  • Are team members clear on roles and responsibilities?
  • Have you been providing regular performance feedback to them?
  • Have you been visible, available, and supportive?
  • Do you “know” your employees?
  • Do you have a good understanding of individual job roles, skills, experience; and
  • What motivates each employee?

We as line managers must be confident and objective enough to look at ourselves as part of the problem and part of the solution. This is hard to look at, but you must do it as part of understanding what’s wrong and how to fix it.

Analyze the Data and Diagnose

We have defined the problem and have gathered the facts. Before we begin to analyze the data, let’s be sure that everything we’ve gathered so far makes sense.

  • Do we have observable and verifiable facts?
  • Are we clear about symptoms and potential causes?
  • Have we separated management and employee causes and issues? If so, we are ready to analyze.

Analyzing the data means we can diagnose what is going on with the team itself, and determine, the role the manager is playing.

To diagnose team dynamics and performance, let’s use the list on the following points to stimulate our thinking.

1. Poor or no communications:
  • What kind of communications is occurring?
  • Is it effective or non-effective?
  • Have I established a style and/or methodology for communications to ensure that everyone on the team is updated on a regular basis?
  • Do I have a communications plan?
  • Do I model good communications when I work with the team or with individuals, (i.e., do I listen and communicate effectively)?
  • Do I, or my team, need help with communications? What kind of help?
2. Lack of problem-solving skills, or getting to the “root cause”:
  • How do we approach problems and issues?
  • Do we approach them in a logical way?
  • Do we capture data as we problem-solve or is it a haphazard, uncoordinated session that does not resolve issues and does not seek input from all team members?
  • Do we need to change how we try to solve problems?
  • Do we really address root cause, or do we deal with symptoms?
3. Lack of clarity in purpose, goals, objectives, team and individual roles:
  • Do all understand their individual roles and the role of each team member?
  • Does each team member understand his/her roles and goals (what they were hired to do and tasked to accomplish)?
  • Do team members understand how individual roles and goals support group goals?
  • Do they understand how the group goals support the larger group’s goals and all the way up to support Corporate group goals?
4. Uncertainty about or lack of resources and sources for help and support:
  • Do team members each understand their strengths and what they contribute to the team?
  • Are they clear about where to go for help and support, which involves clarifying team roles regarding special skills and helping each other?
  • Are they committed to helping each other within the scope of their responsibilities, (i.e., aiding or guidance)?
  • Do team members rely on me as the manager to ensure they have the resources they need to meet individual and team goals?
5. Poor time management:
  • Are team members usually able to meet goals and deadlines?
  • Do they have time management skills or are they always late or always behind?
  • Are they clear about what kind of time management is expected?
  • What kind of mentoring or guidance do I as a manager provide to individuals to ensure they meet goals?
  • What could help them to improve their time management skills?
6. Lack of leadership and management:
  • As a manager, have I been clear regarding my expectations of individuals and the team?
  • Do I give feedback regularly that helps them to understand how they’re meeting my expectations?
  • Do I provide corrective guidance when it’s necessary?
  • Do I support them in public and reprimand in private?
  • Do I model the kind of behavior I expect from my team?
7. Team members bored, not challenged, not really interested:
  • Does each team member have a career plan?
  • Can I detect a lack of interest or commitment?
  • Where is boredom or lack of interest or commitment coming from?
  • Am I, as manager, sufficiently aware of individual career plans and performance to determine if an individual needs a change, a challenge, or corrective action?
  • Do I delegate effectively?
  • How am I motivating my team?
8. Lack of skills and abilities of Team members to meet goals:
  • Are team members matched well in their roles?
  • Do they have the skills and abilities to perform their assigned tasks?
  • Do they need special training and how is this in line with career goals?
  • What kind of guidance can I, as manager, provide?
9. Personality conflicts:
  • Are team members able to work effectively with each other?
  • Are there any who just cannot get along?
  • Do I treat all team members fairly regardless of my own personal feelings about each?
  • Have we, as a team, developed a “conflict resolution” process or strategy” that we can understand and use effectively?
10. Personal problems:
  • Are personal problems interfering with job performance – theirs or mine?
  • Am I aware of personal problems of individuals?
  • Am I encouraging individuals to go to Human Resources (HR) or to find the help and support they need, (i.e., I’m not trying to solve problems outside of my expertise)?
  • How am I working with these individuals to get their work done through flexible schedules, reduced workloads, assistance from others, etc.?
  • Am I, as a manager, working with HR to be fair to the individual, to the company, and to my group?

As we perform our diagnosis, we develop a more precise understanding of team dynamics. Instead of just saying we have poor communications, we can focus in on details. As we analyze each area, we can see two things:

  1. Further problem definition
  2. Beginnings of our plan to fix things
Choose the Best Solution

As we gather and analyze our data, we begin to separate it into discrete areas such as communications, turnover, etc. This helps us in differentiating between “root causes” versus symptoms. We are really defining what’s wrong.

By providing and collecting answers to questions in each area, we can focus in on distinct areas of the problem. We can try to find various solutions and then choose the solution, or solutions that will help solve the problem, and lastly to implement.

Tools & skills for selecting best solution to manage conflict situation
  1. Clear articulation of thoughts and ideas (Clear Thinking)
  2. Active listening
  3. Give effective feedback
  4. Think and analyze in a methodical and systematic way
  5. Set clear, reasonable, achievable Objectives (Set SMART goals)
  6. Identify risks and assumptions
  7. Build contingencies to counter risks and assumptions
  8. Stick to facts and issues, not personalities or personal issues
  9. Develop the ability to work effectively as a team member
  10. Cross training
  11. Use of ‘rules of engagement’ where helpful or necessary
  12. Delegating and mentoring for senior employees
  13. Time management
  14. Conflict Management
Team Conflict Symptoms, Causes, Strategy & Conflict Resolution Process
Team Conflict Symptoms, Causes, Strategy & Conflict Resolution Process

How do you, as a manager, help employees to develop these skills and tools?

  • One way is through modeling the behavior desired.
  • Through coaching.
  • Another is to directly state what is required.
  • Still another is through training.

As a manager, we can work with our team to develop a process that is acceptable for conflict resolution.

Simple Conflict Resolution Process

Below is an example of a simple conflict resolution process.

Step 1: The first step is for individuals to try to resolve the conflict with each other.
  • This will help everyone to sort out their thoughts and feelings before the one-on-one.
  • Being able to resolve conflict with each other helps individuals to learn how to confront each other, clearly state the issue, listen to each other, and work together to find a mutually acceptable solution.
  • The benefit is that individuals learn a highly critical skill for now and the future and become more valuable team members.
Step 2: If the two individuals are not successful with a one-on-one meeting, we will need to intercede.
  • We will be met with each person, then
  • We would bring the two people together with clear goals and an expected outcome.
  • There should be rules or guidelines as to how the meeting will be conducted and how they are expected to behave.
Step 3; If Step 2 doesn’t work, the next step is to involve Human Resources.

These tools and skills may also be helpful and may be used as part of Rules of Engagement (ROE):

  • Attack the problem, not the person
  • Focus on what can be done, not on what can’t be done (positive thinking)
  • Encourage different points of view and honest dialogue
  • Express feelings in a way that does not blame
  • Accept ownership appropriately for all or part of the problem
  • Listen to understand the other person’s point of view before giving your own
  • Show respect for the other person’s point of view
  • Solve the problem while building the relationship

When conflict arises during a team meeting, it is important to address it as soon as possible.

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