Conflict within teams – causes and cures


It’s not unusual for teams to experience conflict: in team sports it can get physical, in rock bands it can end in smashed guitars and in the workplace, conflict can lead to poor performance. Ultimately, conflict within teams can see some members shown the exit.

Not all conflict is A Bad Thing – it depends on how well the people involved handle it. After all, those rock bands will often share stories about the bust-ups that resulted in a stadium filler. Friction can get people out of their comfort zone in a good way.

How does conflict show up within teams?

It’s often small things that build up over time:

  • People slacking and not doing their fair share of the work
  • New and junior members of the team may be the butt of put-downs
  • There’s an inner clique from which others are excluded
  • When it gets really toxic, conflict can show up as sabotage
  • There’s a sense of ‘Us vs Them’ when there’s more conflict than cohesion

What are the causes?

When a team is constantly squabbling, it can usually be traced back to the start, when the team was first formed. Teams that get off to a poor start may never reach their potential. Some or all of these factors may have been causes:

  • A team leader who seeks power and treats the team as their fiefdom
  • No clear purpose – why the team exists
  • Unrealistic goals
  • Focus on job titles rather than job role expectations
  • Unwritten rules that trap the unwary
  • Inconsistent communication

What are the cures?

What successful teams tend to have are the following features:

  1. A leader who is actively involved
  2. Clarity of purpose, goals and clearly defined roles
  3. Sharing – of skills, capabilities and workload
  4. Fairness – the fun stuff is distributed, as is the more routine work
  5. Mutual respect – of each other’s skills, strengths and contributions
  6. An agreed process to resolve disagreements and differences of opinion
  7. An explicit ‘code of conduct’ – what’s OK around here, and what isn’t OK
  8. Open dialogue about the team’s progress
  9. Regular reviews to learn the lessons from the team’s work
  10. Accountability for all – people doing what they’ve committed to
  11. Feedback from all team members on other members’ contribution
  12. Commitment to the team

How does your team measure up against these 12 features? Successful teams are typically robust and demanding; the ones that endure take a proactive approach to manage conflict.

‘How to work well in a team’ and ‘How to handle difficult situations’ are among Zoomly’s best-selling workshops. Get in touch if you’d like to find out more.



You may find this post useful: ‘How to handle conflict? 10 tips to try’


Dawn is the author of ‘The Feedback Book’ and ‘How to be Zoomly at work’








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Image credit: Bad business team. conflict in office. Business fight cartoon cloud -Depositphotos

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