How much workplace conflict arises from issues at the team level? When people talk about how to handle conflict in the workplace, many of the suggestions and/or issues are addressed at the individual level. Granted, the number one item that will sink any team is poor relations among its members. While it is important for each individual to have a strong set of skills in positively working through conflict, or carefronting instead of confronting. Individual level skills, however, are usually lost when the issues are at the team level. We all work as a team at some level.
My biggest observation regarding teamwork, based on an activity I have recently been using in training, shows the team level conflict issue . In the activity the class is divided into teams and given a task. In the directions no mention is made of winning or competing. Once the activity begins, however, most everyone in every class immediately goes into competition mode. The creation of a ‘team’ by nature seems to give people an ‘in’ group (people on my team) and an ‘out’ group (anyone not on my team). For the most part, people are willing and able to help people who are members of their ‘in’ group (their team) but are unwilling to help anyone or any team outside of their team. In some instances, teams will actively work to sabotage other teams’ attempts to complete the task. In the world in which you work, how many times have you seen someone withhold information or share false or misleading information to another team so that their team, the ‘in’ group, looks better or ‘wins’?
When we talk about building positive, healthy relationships we need to help people understand that this applies to all levels and situations. We see things as far more competitive than they frequently are. Why can’t one school help another school? Why can’t one department share information with another department that will help them? Why can’t one shift do something that benefits another shift? Why can’t one business do something to ensure that another business survives and/or succeeds? We need to help people take the focus off themselves and their immediate team and begin to see our world as a bunch of teams all working together.
Just because one team (business, shift, school, person, etc) achieves and succeeds at something does not mean that the rest of us lose. Imagine what the world would be like if everyone and every team looked out for each other. Take a moment and think about yourself and one of your immediate teams. What have you done to help someone else achieve? Is there something you can do that will not bankrupt you but will help someone else? If so, why have you not done it yet?
Dr. Dale Shannon – Director Instructional Design