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During our recent department meetings, we discussed how to manage friction and personality conflicts to keep challenges from derailing the team’s success so we can deliver the best in customer service.  Everyone deals with conflict differently, and we have to continually equip our people with the skills to resolve problems.  As we grow, we must continue to train people to collaborate – to listen actively, consider all points of view and stress the common purpose and shared values of the team.  We always want to strive to have a team culture where meeting the needs of the customer take precedence over internal strife.

The information was from a book called GREAT TEAMS – 16 Things High-Performing Organizations Do Differentlyby Don Yaeger.

Great teams manage dysfunction, friction and strong personalities.  While 100% camaraderie is the dream scenario for team culture, some degree of dysfunction is likely in even the best situations.  When a team has strong personalities and talented people, there will inevitably be friction.  Great team leaders know how to manage friction and personality conflicts to keep challenges from derailing the team’s success.

A clash of personalities can heavily disrupt the productivity of a team – or can even destroy it.  BUT if the situation is handled wisely, the fireworks can be defused and a productive working relationship can move forward on a more positive note.

Six-time Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson is one of the most successful drivers in NASCAR.  He has won more than 70 races and is a six-time Driver of the Year, the most in the history of the award.  BUT in 2005, long before most of these accomplishments, he and long-time crew chief, Chad Knaus, came close to splitting apart due to a clash of egos.  The arguments ranged from work ethic to attitude to dedication, and the combination came close to destroying the winning team.

The team boss and owner, Rick Hendrick, refused to see his team fail.  He called a surprise meeting between Johnson and Knaus, who were barely speaking at the time.  When the two men arrived in Hendrick’s office, they found what looked like a scene straight out of an elementary school.  A table had been set with a huge batch of cookies, some Mickey Mouse plates, and a couple of liters of milk.  As the two bewildered men looked to Hendrick for an explanation, he told them that if they were going to act like children, then he’d treat them both as such.  Hendrick basically told them that nobody was leaving the room until everybody had been honest with themselves.

Knaus and Johnson ate the cookies and drank the milk while they hashed out everything on their respective minds – ultimately opening up the lines of communication.  Their bristling egos relaxed into a shared understanding of each other’s perspective.  One of their disagreements was on how to fine-tune the car – one wanted it to be more controllable, and the other wanted it to be faster.  As they spoke, the two men realized that what both of them wanted more than anything was to win.  That shared desire could be a basis for productive teamwork.

The meeting helped both men understand the importance of openly communicating with one another rather than internalizing slights and disagreements, which can grow into grudges that erode a team from the inside.  Johnson said, “that was definitely a starting point because for the first time in a while, we actually talked.  Chad opened up and shared stress factors he was facing.  I did too.  We both admitted that we had been pushing each other’s hot buttons.”

Johnson and Knaus still have differences and disagree, but as any great team members do, they’ve figured out how to debate with the larger goal in mind, knowing this larger goal is more important than their own individual desires.  Both have found that they compliment each other well – Johnson with his incredible feel for driving and Knaus with his technical and mechanical talent – and they are almost always ahead of the competition.  By properly managing conflict and dysfunction, the two men have developed into a formidable team.

Great Teams understand the reasons behind conflict and find ways to rise above it.  Don’t let dysfunction ruin a great team.

Conflict resolution is a skill that must be exercised to be effective.

Remember, not all conflict in the workplace is bad.  The common perception is that conflict should be avoided at all costs.   But not all conflict is negative or deconstructive.  It can be a source of tremendous energy and innovation when managed well.

Here’s several ways people deal with conflict:

* Relying on your rank and title, debating fiercely if necessary to force your way through friction – that’s competing.

* “Playing nice”, giving in to even unreasonable demands to keep the peace – their strategy is accommodating.

* Failing to address conflict because you’d rather pretend it isn’t happening and hope it will settle itself – that’s being a master of avoiding the issues.

* Striving for a middle ground – that’s compromising.

Each of these four strategies for dealing with conflict can have some success.  BUT Great Teams set a standard above the rest by choosing the fifth option – collaborating.  This means they do their best to listen actively, consider all points of view, and stress the common purpose and shared values of the team.

To avoid conflict, it’s important that values not only be shared but also acknowledged.  And when trouble appears, seasoned leaders know to step in at the right moment, before conflict takes hold, to assert compromise and positive collaboration.  Friction will always be a possibility, but a Great Team should also be ready to utilize collaboration so as not to lose momentum.

The team’s culture of always meeting the needs of the customer should take precedence over internal strife.  An open forum for discussion will offer an opportunity for team members to collaborate and communicate their differing perspectives, provide transparency, offer an exchange of ideas and even develop training to help team members solve problems.  Conflict is a normal part of life.  Instead of avoiding its presence, a Great Team will develop a system to boost communication and collaboration so the team can succeed.

Remember, with so many personalities working under the same roof, conflict is inevitable.  Collaboration is the most successful approach to handling organizational conflict.  Create an open forum where all parties can discuss and debate their points of view in a respectful manner and where compromise and resolution are encouraged.  Getting all perspectives out in the open can reduce the conflict and keep it from infecting a team from within.  This process can save time and money and prevent future stress by bringing previously undetected problems to light.

Conflict must be addressed to avoid derailing team goals.  Embrace conflict as a learning opportunity.  Seek to understand the reasons behind the conflict and how your team can use conflict as fuel, growing in the process.  Great Teams don’t falter in the face of friction but grow stronger when addressing it directly.

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