How Self-Managed Teams Can Resolve Conflict

Self-Managed teams are a group of individuals at the workplace who come together with specific skill sets and work towards a common purpose or goal with reduced or little typical managerial supervision. It is a non-hierarchical group which sets it’s own daily agenda and work with a sense of shared responsibility and accountability.

Obviously, with everyone feeling ownership of the work, there are a lot of benefits like more motivated team, increased participation, ample opportunity for innovation, more commitment etc. Self-managed teams can add a lot of value to the company and seem to be a win-win situation for top management and employees.

However, there can be a few pitfalls to avoid if these teams are to be truly successful. One major issue that self-managed teams need to confront is conflict resolution. In traditional setups, teams have a go-to if there is some mismatch within the ideas or people in the group. A superior is expected and available to act as a mediator or in some cases take over judge-duty in order to resolve any conflict that might arise.

But what is to be done when there is no superior you can report or resort to?

The first thing to do is to get the entire team onboard with the idea that conflict is an opportunity for betterment. Productive conflict management is possible when teams openly discuss their differences and expectations. The idea is that disagreements or clashes should not be seen as annoying or isolating, but an opportunity to grow and strengthen working relationships. Low risk decisions can be worked out at individual levels and come to the group if difficult to resolve, while anything that has a greater impact should be resolved as a group activity.

This is easier to do when everyone is geared towards accountability rather than blame. Instead of looking at ‘who’ was responsible for some problem or lapse, everyone should focus on the ‘why’ it happened. A strict no-name-calling policy will help in ingraining this approach. When individuals have a safe space to voice their concerns, problems or shortcomings, it is easier to identify ways in which to overcome those. This also creates a positive feedback loop where team members are assured of a empathetic response to their needs and push them to do better.

In case of a protracted issue that is being sticky to resolve, it helps to quantify the impact of that problem. Once everyone gets clarity on the tangible effect of a certain problem area, the people involved automatically become more amenable to a compromise that will take the team ahead rather than hinder the process. This is a direct consequence of a group based rather than an individualistic approach to conflict. As a corollary, looking at successes as a team effort rather than personal contribution is critical for any of this to work.

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