Every team has internal conflicts from time to time. Many leaders avoid team conflict, and others handle disagreements inappropriately. But leaders who handle problems constructively can improve productivity, generate new ideas and personally develop team members.
"At first blush, team conflict seems to be negative and something that needs the team leader's immediate involvement to rectify," says Jon Warren, assistant division director of education with the Missouri Department of Corrections. "Sometimes conflict among team players is very important in developing new thinking and actually moving the team forward."
Stages of Team Development
Teams go through definite stages as they develop. Bruce Tuckman, in his often-cited 1965 Psychological Bulletin article "Developmental Sequence in Small Groups," took existing theories and boiled them down to four stages of team development: Forming, storming, norming and performing. Determining which stage of development the team is in will help a leader decide how to handle the conflict.
"Team conflict can be resolved quickly and effectively and only requires one key ingredient," says Warren. "That key ingredient is a team leader who can diagnose a team within stages of team development and choose from an array of effective team leadership skills necessary for appropriate intervention at the moment."
As the team members are getting to know each other in the forming stage, a leader needs to be more directive. In the storming stage when conflict arises, the leader needs to be both directive and supportive. In the norming stage, as team members work out their differences, the leader needs to be more supportive and less directive. Finally in the performing stage, when the team is moving easily ahead, the leader should be supportive.