Despite best intentions, disagreements will arise — event in self managed teams. It’s perfectly fine to disagree, but if any parties get stuck and hold fast to their own opinions, disagreements can turn into conflict. What can you do to resolve conflicts in a self-managed environment?
It’s worth pointing out that self managed teams are usually supported by an advanced conscious coach, and each person in the team works consistently on their own self development. So usually, they are people who are emotionally intelligent and well versed in discussing their way through disagreements. It’s also worth noting that key principles of self-managed teams including being able to consider the needs and wants of your colleagues, and being able to respect people with different opinions from your own.
In the early months (and sometimes years) of a transition away from traditional hierarchies, many people are still traversing cusps of different levels of maturity and it is usually in and around these two key principles that conflict arises.
Some of the more common negative beahviours that can disrupt a self-managing team are:-
- people regress to entrenched positions on some issues where they forget their ability to compromise and simply just won’t give in
- one team member ‘takes charge’ and starts to make decisions for the team instead of with them using sneaky reasons such as ‘that supplier just happened to call me so I made a decision with them….’
- forgetting to take colleague agreements, capacity and requests into account such as ignoring requests for work to be organised so that people don’t have to consistently work late
- bullying disguised as ‘beneficial bullying’ when one member of the team finds they get all the unpopular working tasks or meetings are scheduled when they can’t attend, or team members stop replying to their emails
- team member marginalising, where the kind of statements that get made are ‘that’s not in your Agreement so we didn’t think you could do that’ or ‘ just leave that job to Marcus, it’s not a suitable task for you’
- preferential ownership of tasks, where one team member tries to hang onto a favourite task when it comes time to rotate responsiblity
- personality clashes where two people are operating from such different values, cultures, communications styles that one inevitably thinks they are communicating in a friendly open manner and the other automatically hears a personal criticism or blame
The key principle of self-managing teams is that they share responsibility, so when there’s conflict they share responsibility for that too, and for solving it.
Most conflict resolution courses focus on identifying the type of conflict — is it scarcity, social-emotional or a power struggle — and then on the way in which the individuals concerned best solves conflict — do they avoid it, do they force a solution, do they just give in, try to find compromise or solve the problem? This is a silo-management think at its best, because in reality no conflict can ever be squashed into a single category. They’re messy. Emotions arise like anger, fear, sadness, and people become defensive and hostile.
What methods are there in self-management that are different?
There are different schools of thought. What I have seen work really well are the following:
- Allow the Team Coach to manage emotions
Once emotions are running high, clean communication suffers. We have been trained for decades not to bring emotion into work, and often prefer to try for ‘normal’ conversations that are without emotion. So we’re not very good at communicating healthily when angry or upset. We lose understanding of each other’s point of view. The other person’s anger, fear or sometimes even aggression has an impact on what we are prepared to say or do. When we feel we’re being attacked or criticised, the oldest response in the world is to go on the attack ourselves. Attack is the best method of defence.
What you pay attention to, grows. Emotions are no different. An experienced team coach can divert the attention away from emotions towards exploration of the situation and begin to focus on solutions.
- Use Thinking-Based Questions
The team coach will do this for you, but instead of asking questions about how we feel, focus on questions which require thinking instead. “What do you think needs to change about the way in which you are communicating?” or “What do you think we need to do to in order to keep to our core team principles here?”.
- Use Solution Focused Communication
Solution Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT) was developed by Steve de Shazer (1940- 2005), and Insoo Kim Berg (1934–2007) as a psychotherapeutic approach to solution-building instead of problem-solving. The core foundation of this method is the recognition that when you are analysing problems, suffering continues. But when you focus on what you want to happen instead — the solution — without looking at the past or the provenance of the problem which can be highly complex, you can achieve progress in a much simpler way.
It also recognises that even where problems are present, there are times when they are less severe. And in these times, most people do positive things and achieve successes that they may be unaware of. If you can work out what these behaviours are for each individual, you can introduce them into future solution-making.
Many self-managed businesses use a form of SFBT to resolve conflict which is often guided by the team coach. The principles are as follows:-
- The Goal: Identify the desired future state you want to achieve, i.e. the goal. Make sure you make this a positive goal not a negative one. So “We want to make is easier for us to all be consulted on decisions” is better than “We want to stop people from making decisions on their own”.
- Individual Roles: discuss what you have responsibility for according to your Colleague Agreement or similar, reflect on what you can decide for yourself and what should be done in consultation with others, acknowledge what skills and qualities you have which you can bringing to bear, and remind yourself of when you have successfully brought positive qualities to bear creating previous solutions.
- The Way: how are you going to work together to achieve The Goal; what are you going to do differently, what do you need to think about, what will you change.
- Respectful Communication: commit to keeping communication respectful, clear and direct. Often this is where the coach has to intervene the most, re-directing emotions to thinking questions.
- Timeframe: as with all things, there may be a deadline already in place against which you have to achieve The Goal, but if there isn’t, set one. At the very least, setting a time to review progress is important.
Two self-management specialists, Astrid Vermeer and Ben Wenting have many great examples of putting solution-focused action into practice on their YouTube Channel. Have a nosey.
4. Improvement Plans
After initial discussions to resolve a problem, the team and individuals involved commit to a plan or set of principles that they have agreed will improve the issue. It has a timeframe for review and is a replacement for traditional HR processes for under-performing employees.
5. When All Else Fails
Like all organisations, self-managed businesses must sit within the law for HR practices in their country. No-one can be arbitrarily dismissed form a team. But in various countries, Holland in particular, they have found that courts will be satisfied with significantly less documentation than the average HR department will produce for a dismissal process, so often self-managed teams keep a simple file that records disagreement discussions should it arise.
If you would like to learn more about the benefits of self-management in your business, do connect with us. It’s not for everyone, but it does release creativity & innovation and create more engagement when done well.