Every team goes through some stages of conflict before they stabilize. Leaders need to be conscious of intervening during such conflicts. The knee-jerk reaction of a typical leader observing a conflict is to jump immediately to “fix” the problem. It is highly recommended that they avoid it and take a step back to monitor the situation first.
The leaders need to find the appropriate time and context to intervene for coaching. Here are some examples and contexts.
1. Self-organizing teams are in the process of learning. They are trying to check the boundaries and positioning themselves in the team. Conflicts in such situations are imminent. The leader or a coach assigned to the team should avoid intervening in such contexts.
These teams are like butterflies emerging from pupa. Yes, there is a bit of process, pain and time involved to emerge out of pupa, and one needs a bit of patience. Trying to expedite the process could actually kill the butterfly.
2. Research suggests that creative and innovative work actually needs healthy debate and conflict. Intervention is needed to help the in understanding the differences. There are many times a person or a small group within a large group might be thinking tangentially. This could lead to conflicts and it does not mean that there is anything wrong here. In fact, such conflicts avoid groupthink.
For example, an engineer embedded in a marketing team obviously think differently. The engineer could be considered as a trouble maker as he/she is different than the rest of the marketing team. In contexts like this, the leadership or coach intervention is essential to assist the group.
As a leader one needs to drill down a little bit, get rid of the noise and study the type of work before intervening. The diversity of the team needs to be taken into account while dealing with a creative team as well.
3. If the team is working on a routine and repetitive kind of work, coaching intervention trying to facilitate discussions could backfire. Instead, a root-cause analysis with a management intervention is critical for smooth functioning.
To conclude, if you see or hear a conflict, don’t jump to fix the problem. Try to understand the context first. Many a times, the conflict is actually good for the team, and the organization in the long run.