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When conflict arises in a team (and it will), it presents an opportunity to either make the team stronger or break it apart, depending on how the leader and the team resolve it. Couples should establish rules before the dispute arises, so everyone understands how to work through conflict and use it to improve team performance.

Avoid Personal Attacks

Address how team members’ behavior or performance affects the team. Do not attack team members personally. When a member suffers a personal attack, it can affect them for a long time, long after the member improves their performance or corrects the problematic behavior. This leads to resentment and other personal attacks in the future.

Prevent Heated Outbursts

Angry outbursts cause other members to shut down emotionally. Outbursts do not resolve conflict but drive it below the surface until it reappears, even more, damaging than before. The team gets defensive, stops collaborating, loses trust, and damages the relationship with the member who had the outburst. Outbursts are emotional responses to other issues that can usually be resolved once emotions are removed from the equation. Early in the team development process, leaders must lay a ground rule that before emotions come out in an outburst, the team member should disengage from the conversation and reengage only when they feel they can discuss rationally.

Approach Other Team Members Directly

If a team member has a conflict with another team member, they should deal with that team member directly, face-to-face. Too often, team members discuss their issues with other team members. This erodes trust within the team. It is not always possible to have an in-person meeting. If the problem cannot wait until a face-to-face meeting is possible, a phone call is the next best solution. If a phone call is not possible, an email may suffice, but only as a last resort.

Never Assume Hostile Intent

Miscommunication is the most common cause of conflict within a team. Members usually do not try to cause a conflict purposely. Either the meaning of the conversation or task was misunderstood, or something else went awry. The member did not fully comprehend the standards or how their behavior was interpreted. When attempting to resolve the conflict, team or squad leaders must understand that members are usually not trying to cause conflict.

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