I am called frequently by managers about building effective teams. When I ask what is prompting this investment in “team building,” the manager usually responds with something like “we’d like to improve communication and work together better.” Despite my love for working with clients in this area, I’ve learned to question the manager further. It doesn’t take too long for the REAL reason he called to be exposed: one or two employees just don’t seem to fit with the rest of the group or performance is missing expectations.

Employee Conflict The reasons for this poor fit range from “not pulling his weight” or “continually creating tension with her co-workers.” But rather than single out these employees for improvement, managers want to circumvent addressing the problem head-on, hoping that a few hours of team building training will enlighten the disenchanted so they see the light and experience that “A-HA” moment. This conversations occurs so often that I can recall only one time in nearly 15 years in the business that an inquiry about team building was actually prompted when everyone was already working collaboratively and cooperatively. Every other request seems to be prompted by a conflict between one or more individuals and the manager or co-workers; and the team building event itself was a covert attempt to avoid addressing the real problem. Unfortunately masquerading conflict resolution as team building is ineffective, time-consuming, and costly.

Addressing conflict effectively started with identifying which of three potential sources of the conflict is causing the rift or disengagement: interpersonal, functional, or intrapersonal.

Interpersonal, or me-you, conflicts reprsent the stereotypical conflict – I don’t like something about you and you don’t like something about me. If the source of the conflict is just a problem in how one employee does his/her job vs. how another employee or manager expects the job to be done, these situations are often easily resolved by using the DISC assessments. One of the biggest benefits gained from DISC is that employees easily grasp the concept that each of us has a preferred way to approaching problem solving, interacting with others, pacing ourselves, and following procedures. They also learn that these preferences are not good or bad, right or wrong – they are just different and those differences create conflicts. Understanding differences in how we approach tasks and intereact with people is the best first step at minimizing and resolving conflict. I often hear after such an intervention that “I didn’t realize how I was coming across.” When one person accepts tha fact that another’s style is not an attempt to get under their skin but merely an expression of the way he communicates, many interpersonal conflicts disappear.

A second type of conflict is functional, or job related. This occurs when the way management expects the job to be done conflicts with the way an employee prefers to do it. For instance, management may expect supervisors to offer ongoing positive feedback and to engage employees by coaching and personal meetings. The introverted manager however may prefer to communicate by email or memos and doesn’t see the point in thanking employees for a job well done – “that’s what paychecks are for.” Conflicts between an individual and the expectations of the job usually result in de-motivation and burnout. Unfortunately along the way, these individuals create a lot of collateral damage. Identifying the behavioral and personality requirements of the job and matching an individual’s style and personality to the criteria minimizes the risk of functional conflicts.

The third type of conflict is intrapersonal, or me-me, results when an individual has internally conflicting behavioral styles, values and personality traits. For instance, let’s say an employee prefers to complete what he/she starts before beginning something else (the Steady behavioral style)> But he also has a short fuse and is energized by addressing problems quickly (the Direct style). Just like two people with these conflicting styles who are forced to work together, a single indiviudal can have an internal conflict. The best solution is helping the individual understand his/her own style and personality and coaching them in ways to modify their work and interpersonal style. The result when handled properly is a less stressed, more productive employee.

Resolving or preventing conflict begins with individual assessment. This immediately exposes the root cause of any internal or external tension and focuses a manager’s energy and resources into improving performance instead of dancing around the problem. In addition to different behavioral styles, personal values and motivators create conflict. Like behavioral style, values are neither good or bad, right or wrong. But different personal values (or worldviews) are a common source of workplace conflict. The good news is that understanding how DISC behavioral styles and individual values work can help individuals improve performance and job satisfaction and assist managers in building effective teams and improving productivity.

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