While considering how to provide the right environment for the meeting, the manager needs to differentiate between types of conflict: relationship versus cognitive (Raju 2017). Overall, relationship conflict may lead to negative emotions, such as anger and frustration directed at other team members, and thus it should be minimized for better team cohesiveness. When interpersonal conflict becomes more intense and arousal increases, cognitive load increases, information processing is impeded, which interferes with cognitive flexibility and creative thinking (Raju 2017). That said, I would attempt to handle relationship conflict in a private meeting with the person who is making others feel uncomfortable because I do not want that conflict to expand. On the other hand, cognitive conflict gives rise to debate differing task-related opinion such as team goals, key decision areas, procedures, and appropriate choices of action (Raju 2017). Such exchanges help team members better understand issues surrounding the decision context and synthesize multiple perspectives to derive solutions that are superior to those made by any individual team member. Cognitive conflict can even improve commitment to decisions (Raju 2017). That said, the remaining two conflicts that are related to ways to increase productivity and task allocation would be best handled in a group meeting.
My decision to have a private conversation with the overly political worker is also comes from my knowledge, based upon Manning’s (2014) account, of this person’s nature and needs. Considering that the person is passionately outspoken, I figure they are an individualist, similar to Joan of Arc who led the French people by her conviction and bravery. Moreover, this person’s focus on important social causes is an indicator of them being an individualist. Considering that the individualist naturally avoids not being themselves, I want to come from a place of compassion by noting that it is simply in their nature to have strong self-expression. Along the same lines, it is crucial to be compassionate by trying to understand the forces in another person’s life that may have influenced and helped shape their personality. So, I would ask them questions about their background to provide opportunities for growth thorough exploration and self-discovery. I would then meet their needs by recognizing independence and personal freedom. At that point, I would ask them about their focus on satisfying interpersonal relationships which is also a characteristic of individualists. That said, they are going to be already motivated to adjust their behavior because being liked by the team is important to them. I would be extremely sensitive to their feelings when describing that their behavior is making others feel uncomfortable and ask them about how they feel is the best way to proceed. Talking in private can help all them feel as though they can communicate in an uncensored and honest way. I would then directly ask them how I can help (Manning 2014). Finally, I would give some time for us to implement the takeaways from our private conversation and check back in at a later date.
In regard to the remaining two conflicts, I would implement strategies depicted through the character Kathryn in The Five Dysfunctions of a Team (Lencioni 2002). All 7 reports will be present. Similar to Kathryn’s case, I may receive backlash from the onset of calling a meeting to address productivity and task allocation conflicts (Lencioni 2002). At this point, it is crucial that I remind them that the meeting is necessary so that I can give them the confidence to be present at it (Lencioni 2002, 205). At the beginning of the meeting, is important to initially discover what is important to employees and what they want to accomplish so that I can increase their buy-in (Manning 2014). Conversation centered around coming up with a goal will be a good opportunity for reports to air their grievances about what is not working well in a professional manner. I would then use a similar approach as Kathryn by bringing up the group’s inattention to results as a status and ego issue to transition into collaboratively determining a group goal (Lencioni 2002, 71-78). It would touch on the underlying issues involved with a lack of productivity problem and the team member who is prioritizing individual self-esteem over a balanced array of team member contribution. Crucially, as Kathryn did so, determining the group goal will provide me with the anchor needed to direct the rest of the conversation and handle backlash. Additionally, I would share Kathryn’s basketball analogy regarding the interconnected nature of a team (Lencioni 2002, 83). From there, I would facilitate a conversation in the direction of strategizing ways to enhance accountability. I would then put the three suggestions for overcoming avoidance of accountability- publication of goals and standards, simple and regular process reviews, and team rewards- on the table (Lencioni 2002, 214-215). Finally, I would ask questions to guide the team in applying the three tactics to our situation, and they would create a plan of action.
Lencioni, Patrick. 2002. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Manning, George. 2014. The Art of Leadership. New York: McGraw-Hill
Raju, G. Prageetha. 2017. “Impact of Conflicts on Team Creativity in Indian Software Companies: Gains and Detriments”. Indian Journal of Industrial Relations. 53(1): 141-151.
Comment by Professor Robert Gnuse:
Mary, nice post. Good differentiation between relationship versus cognitive conflicts and the way to handle them.