Recently I participated in a global conference call about conflict in virtual teams and was asked to provide techniques for managing team conflict in virtual environments. Since there are several solutions for handling conflict offered in my upcoming book A Manager’s Guide to Virtual Teams, I will respond with several postings about conflict in virtual teams. To start, there are many tips for handling conflict situations and taking steps to reduce conflict as soon as a problem is suspected, or before it begins to manifest itself. Lemons can taste sour, but added to water and sweetener they are transformed into a wonderful beverage. Similarly, if you practice productive employee relationship management, you can turn potentially treacherous risky situations into successful outcomes.
There are ways for virtual team managers to help mitigate conflict in virtual teams. Anticipating conflict before it surfaces saves time later on, as well as potential expenses caused by work disruptions. Here is a list of tips for conflict management in a virtual team:
TIPS FOR HANDLING CONFLICT IN VIRTUAL TEAMS
- Prepare employees for conflict; invest in training so employees will be ready and willing to take ownership of their conflict situations.
- Make sure you schedule one-on-one time with each team member on a regular basis, and invite feedback.
- Accept conflict as part of organizational life. Observe and acknowledge what has happened – notice what is going on.
- Make the first move towards resolving the conflict (take responsibility) because you do not want it to fester or become a stalemate.
- Refer back to ‘Team Set Up’ and ‘Rules of the Road’ that you established earlier to set up and apply the conflict strategies you set out to practice. You may want to revisit those ‘Rules’ from time to time to ‘Refresh’ conflict behaviors for which you hold team members accountable.
- Communicate about the conflict. Don’t hold it in or be afraid to speak up. Express how the conflict makes you feel and how you see it. Reframe the conflict experience in terms of the bigger picture and not just the particular situation.
- Encourage employees to speak up and ask for help in managing team conflict. Coach them to put themselves in the other person’s shoes to understand his / her point of view.
- Use a structured approach and common language to address conflicts and be flexible about possible resolutions.
- Take care not to confront someone in public (during a conference or web call). Address conflicts in private with individuals first.
- Learn from the conflict experience so you can improve your skills in this area for the future.
- Above all, choose your battles carefully. Don’t let the urgency of a request push you into giving an emotional response. Stay in control of yourself and calmly evaluate requests.
FOUR STEPS TO HANDLE CONFLICT IN VIRTUAL TEAMS
- Pause before responding.
- Acknowledge the other person’s feelings / reactions.
- Ask questions. Questioning gives you time to think and gain control. It also may provide you with new data and more clarity on what the other person is saying.
- Suggest taking a break or continuing the conversation at a later point if you feel you need it.
- NOTE: Don’t take the situation personally. Acknowledge your emotions without acting on them – focus on understanding and solving the problem.