Conflict in teams is an inescapable part of working life. Team conflict can affect morale and productivity but it doesn't have to cause permanent rifts. Here's how Nature can help you rebuild trust, boost collaboration and bring your team back together when there is conflict in your workplace.
Photo by Yan Krukau on Pexels
A team is only as strong as the relationships among its members, and like most connections teams can have their ups and downs like a rollercoaster ride. Even with the best of intentions, sooner or later clashes between team members are inevitable because working life creates conflict by its very nature. Decisions may not have everyone's agreement, projects don’t always run smoothly, people get promoted or passed over. Different personalities bump up against each other and people can be triggered by what seems like the smallest of things.
This year we’ve been working with various clients at different stages in their life cycles - from startups with ambitious growth plans, to established large organisations that are implementing structural change.
For many clients, the issue of conflict and how to handle it is a common theme. For one charity, people across the organisation were angry about a restructure and were not holding back on telling leaders.
For another, a startup, it was the opposite. People were avoiding saying what they really thought and were only being nice to each other. Especially when senior leaders were present.
Workplace conflict is a tricky one. It feels uncomfortable and if not handled well, it can cause all sorts of issues - exclusion, scapegoating, communication breakdown. You can get stuck there.
According to Tuckman's forming, storming, norming, performing model - team conflict is a necessary and important stage that teams go through as they work through frustration and individuals establish their own authority - it can be transformative if handled well.
At its heart, conflict in a team is about how you identify and integrate difference.
As a leader, if you can make space to hear alternative views and perspectives, then people feel included and that they belong. On the other hand, if they feel excluded they may stop speaking up, then you don’t hear their concerns, and decisions can get made when not everyone is fully on board. Which can derail things down the line.
I remember one client we worked with - a small team from a large corporate - where their manager had been absent for 6 months due to illness. One team member took this absence very badly. They felt unsupported and when the manager came back this person was negative and resisted every new initiative, without saying why. At one point during their team building day in the woods, they disappeared without telling anyone where they were going.
When they came back, we sat everyone down and made space for people to be open about what was going on. People were fundamentally kind and this team member felt brave enough to be honest about how they were feeling. Everyone in the team - especially the manager - was understanding and supportive. The person felt listened to and heard. Something shifted. You could sense the chords of connection grow between people. Afterwards they said, “We haven’t felt like a team until now.”
If you have conflict in your team - which might show up as arguments, silence, or people going absent - how do you deal with it and get to outcomes like this?
How to resolve conflict in your team
Here's our guide to solving conflict in your team:
It takes practice but doing this creates a safe space for people to be courageous enough to be open and honest, so that everyone's different viewpoints can be heard and integrated.
This can take time. Having an external person to facilitate helps. Then existing patterns and issues of power don’t get in the way, and people can trust the process.
Nature is a great place to work on resolving team confilct
Nature is a great place to work on this - it helps people see each other differently, relate to each other in new ways and to open up.
We would say that, but don’t just take our word for it: in the words of another client where the team had been in a conflict that had seemed almost impossible to shift, their time with us around a fire in the woods was, “a turning point for the team.”
If any of this resonates, we’d love to hear how you go about resolving conflict in your team. We love working on this stuff, so if you need some help do get in touch.
Our mission at School of the Wild is to help businesses and organisations transform their teams and inspire a positive and regenerative workplace culture. We believe that Nature brings out the best in people so we bring leaders and teams outside to help you reconnect and think differently, so that you’re inspired to transform the way you work.
Have a look at our outdoor team building programmes, or get in touch for more information.
Author & Curator
Nigel Berman is the founder of School of the Wild.