Alexander Saus  

Conflicts in Your Team: 5 Steps You Can Take To Avoid Them

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Alexander Saus told Delo.ua whether conflicts are useful for a team and advised on how to avoid them. It’s no secret that we are living in an extremely emotional period of time. It is true for business as well. It doesn’t come as a surprise to us that sometimes temper wears thin and small misunderstandings which earlier were resolved easily with sincere apologies coming from both sides can become kindly soil for development of heated conflicts. What is worse, such conflicts can last long enough. What should be done to minimize the damage in situations like that?

1. Preventive measures

The rules of conduct within an office should be set along with clear functional responsibilities and strategic goals for the employees.  A so called “corporate code” doesn’t have to be detailed. Sometimes even a long email from CEO will do. What is more important, this code should not have contradictory clauses. If possible, keep it comprehensive. For example, it should regulate how many angry emails make a developing conflict and who is authorized to stop such exchange of emails to continue discussion off line.

If a leader is able to draw the clear line marking the beginning of unconstructive conflict, little room will be left for fiddling. Trust me, the habit of quarrelling as a part of corporate culture will gradually vanish. If needed, you can add clauses to the document which decrease the probability of the argument. For example, prohibit high-pitched discussions, swearing or offensive vocabulary. There was a time in our company when we used to present the loudest employee of the month with tickets to Kyiv Zoo. He would receive his prize at a general meeting, of course. After a few months of such nominations our office became much quieter.

It is important not only to set the standards alone, but also to provide for the simple method of violations disclosure. Let me stress it out once more – the simpler it is, the better. The sanctions must me proper and fair. If an average employee loses his bonus (whether partly or in full), but his boss gets away with oral reprimand for the same violation, I find it to be corporate atavism.

For instance, it is quite simple to monitor in the course of manager meetings whether prohibition of discrimination or harassment of employees based on any reason or intolerance towards pinning labels on people is observed. My recommendation is to fine the manager of the department in which inappropriate statements have been tolerated.

2. Prophylactic measures

I am sure that existence or absence of interpersonal conflicts depends on company managers’ qualification, leaders’ behavior and their attitude towards their subordinates as well as their ability to prevent and settle the conflict situations. Managers’ psychological competences need to be developed. Especially it is true for middle managers.   Line managers serve as cementing material for binding employees into integrated and solid structure based on corporate values. A lot of qualified experts turn into absolutely helpless managers. That is why paying for workshops on different topics once in a few months is justified. The topics should vary from applied approaches for recognizing different types of personality to group psychology and effective methods of team management. The most important skills for CEO are honesty and ability to hear his managers.

3. Correct layout of employees’ desks within office.

If employees’ desks are located in the open space, the probability of conflicts is bound to rise. Private space is constantly being violated by intruding noise, irritating smells, sudden movements etc. While I am writing these lines my colleague on the right has the snuffles. Don’t be greedy. Set up sound-proofing partitions but only for those who want to have that kind of privacy. 

It is extremely important how the employees’ desks are arranged within office. Keep in mind personal sympathies as well as rationale for being seated close to each other in terms of company’s operations. We follow a habit of rotating employees’ desks within the office. This maneuver eliminates loss of information between the departments and facilitates socializing. Try not to provoke the tension by seating close two employees with mutual dislike for one another. Each employee should find himself quite comfortable inside the office.  

4. HRM shouldn’t leave conflicts unattended.

It is important to have the conflict resolved at the earliest stage when it still looks as squabbles or caustic remarks between the employees during the meetings
Even experienced managers sometimes fail to effectively spot the conflicts and settle them in time due extremely busy schedules. That is why HR managers should adopt the role of the intermediaries in the conflicts to at least impartially hear each side in the argument and assist the line manager in taking measures aimed at relieving the tension.   To keep up the team’s spirit the company should have such procedures or institutes as adaptation of newcomers, mentorship, employees’ assessment, couching, candidates’ pool etc.

5. Once the conflict has appeared, it should be resolved properly:

  • It is important to have the conflict resolved at the earliest stage when it still looks as squabbles or caustic remarks between the employees during the meetings.
  • To put it plainly – keep an eye on words and jokes - they are forerunners of actions.
  • Avoid public showdowns. REMEMBER that praise should be public, but criticism should be expressed one-to-one.
  • “Face-to-face” confrontation should be held confidentially, with only sides of the conflict being present. 
  • Team work and advantages of mutual cooperation should be encouraged. Avoid unhealthy or unjustified competition inside the departments or between them.
  • It’s wise to observe neutrality in the process of conflict settlements. Do not make decisions until you have heard both sides. The passions will calm down in a time.
  • If necessary, make a decision to fire an employee. If one side of a conflict turns to be a genius in his field but at the same time he impedes the department’s progress and constantly has clashes with colleagues, it’s better to let him go.

Of course, it is not pleasant to find oneself in the middle of the work conflict. Besides, frequent clashes have negative impact on working environment. However, conflicts are integral part of development. Once the conflict is settled in a constructive way, the company gains something new. It can be a relationship between the employees, a solution for some problem, or creation of new product etc.

Avoiding conflicts altogether, attractive as it is, can turn the confrontation into endless headache, preventing employees from effectively fulfilling their responsibilities and impeding company’s development.  I have one rule. If an issue results in a heated discussion during a meeting, we have most likely stumbled on the question of great importance for the company. Multiple opinions on one issue secure genuinely creative solution. Truth is born of arguments. 


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