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3 Tactics for Diffusing Team Conflict

A Lesson in Collaboration from a Team of “Type A’s”

It is a point of pride for such a small team to be so diverse. This case’s team boasted people—not only from around the country—but around the world. Each member had different approaches, different communication styles, different specialties; and while one might expect these differences to have been a point of tension, they usually amounted to a considerable advantage in problem solving. Their similarities, on the other hand, proved to be the greater hurdle.

The first time the entire team was put on the same project, it was obvious that a group of individuals as confident, driven, and self-sufficient as they happened to be were as capable of building up mountains as they were of moving them. They learned quickly that progress is difficult when everyone has their own idea of what needs to be accomplished and how to go about it. The Type A personality traits that had made each of them so effective alone became a serious challenge when they needed to collaborate. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, a “Type-A” person is often characterized as confident, aggressive, and over-achieving[1]. Luckily, they were able to diffuse their team’s tension and move forward using 3 tactics.

  • Firstly, they shut down any negative patterns. When meetings turned into unproductive and potentially hurtful back-and-forth's, they took a break or rescheduled the meeting. It might seem counter-intuitive to halt production, especially when there is an impending deadline. However, in the long run, it helped everyone to clear their heads and return to work with a healthier mindset.

  • The next step was to clearly establish what everyone’s roles and responsibilities were. The team began the project with only a vague idea of what each of them was supposed to contribute, and this made it difficult to see where one realm of ownership and expertise ended and the next began. Clarifying these roles and responsibilities made it easier for everyone to step back and cede ownership to the person responsible. It considerably reduced the number of unnecessary conflicts and was especially helpful in gray areas where ownership was unclear.

  • The last and most impactful step was to encourage and facilitate 1:1 communication between team members. This gave everyone the opportunity to express their ideas and opinions in a low-stakes situation that involved neither decision making nor an audience. More importantly, everyone gained a better understanding of the other person, which made it easier to work together and respect each other's ideas.

Taking the time to make these changes not only reduced tension within the team, but helped them channel their Type-A tendencies to create a collaborative and productive work environment. It can be challenging to see past our own ideas, let alone to bother changing perspectives or accommodating for an idea expressed in an unfamiliar way. This is especially true when everyone is a confident “go-getter”. However, using these tactics can help prevent conflict by reducing long lasting stale mates, uncharacteristically low production rates, and a lot of frustration.

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