Effective Teams: How to prevent and resolve conflicts

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Collaboration – the new favorite word in the halls of business schools and throughout businesses across the U.S yet how many of us really enjoy working in teams? I’m not sure about your experience with working in teams but my experience has been marred by issue after issue with team members. The problems can be as little as tiny disagreements regarding the mission of the group to problems as large as those freeloading off the work of others. Furthermore, I’m sure we have all been in situations when working in a team setting when there is a member who is totally taking control of the group – I like to say holding the group hostage – where productivity is minimized and time wasted. In graduate school and professionally, group work is a definite so I will discuss ways in which to maximize the productivity when working in

The first step toward maximizing group cohesiveness is to set roles and expectations of all group members. There is nothing worse than working in a group with no vision and no expectations - nothing seems to get accomplished. Setting expectations is a great first start toward increasing team efficiency as all members of the team will understand their responsibility for the project. As with other forms of communication, it is immensely important to not assume that other members of the group know what their responsibility is thus we want to rule out that all forms of miscommunication. Another key aspect of setting roles is the delegation of managerial roles to move the group forward, to step in when conflict arises, and to motivate other members when the project faces hurdles.

The second step to increase team effectiveness is the determination of how key decisions will be made and the process of working through conflict when key decisions are not unanimously made. I’m sure we have all had the pleasure of working in a collaborative environment when one person tries to make all the key decisions without the input from others – frustrating beyond words! When teams do not have a blueprint of how decisions will be made, it creates ambiguity and may take away productive time thus minimizing productivity. The creation of a decision making strategy may also lessen the frequency of conflict between team members as the team is aware of how key decisions will be made while also letting team members know that their input is valued. The important lesson to be learned when working with teams is that all members have some responsibility when making decisions but the formal decision making process needs to be outlined to reduce inefficient use of time and should be assigned during the first step of team building.

The final step to increase team production is to address conflict when it arises. The worst ingredient for killing team cohesion is conflict and not addressing the conflict in a beneficial, productive manner. Conflict will almost always arise when people work in teams – people have different expectations of others, perhaps conflict arises due to miscommunication, or when people have different ideas of how the group should be run – no matter what the problem may be, it is vitally important to address the conflict. Conflict resolution can be as simple as talking it out and making a decision on how to improve team cohesion or on the other spectrum, it may involve team members being removed from the team when conflict cannot be resolved. No matter what the issue may be, it is important to communicate with the team and move forward in a mutually beneficial way.

Working in groups can be extremely beneficial especially when working in diverse groups where team members may have diverse work, educational, and even culturally diverse experience; however, it can also be anxiety provoking and difficult when problems arise shortly after inception. Whether you are thinking about applying to business school, currently enrolled in a graduate program, or working professionally, it is nearly impossible to escape team work thus maximizing team productivity and cohesion will be beneficial and following these three simple steps is a great way to start. 

Stephen Bachman