What is a project team and what are possible ways of resolving problems between team members? A team is a group of diversified people brought together to accomplish a goal that cannot be effectively or efficiently completed by a single person. (Group and Team Dynamics, n.d.). Diversity can be a team’s greatest asset or its worst liability if a team does not take measures to resolve some conflicts that may arise from time to time. Teams must learn how to identify conflicts that will have a negative effect on reaching their goal and take steps to rectify the conflict before it can do any real damage to the team’s cohesion.
Before a team can resolve issues that may arise, the team must first understand team dynamics and how they work. Team dynamics is the design of a team. All successful teams will have three basic traits: common vision, clear goal, and identified roles in the team. (Sethi, 2005).
The reason that a common vision is the first basic trait of all successful teams is that a common vision forms the motivation of the team. The common vision must motivate the team to work together or the team will never efficiently achieve its goal. (Sethi, 2005).
The second basic trait of a successful team is that the team must create a clear goal. A clear goal should be established as early as possible so the team members can form a clear understanding of their common objective. The goal will serve as a “guiding light” when the team is making decisions or resolving disputes. (Sethi, 2005).
The third basic trait of a successful team is that all team members assign roles to each other and understand those roles in the group. Assigning roles to team members gives the team a chance to know each team member on an individual basis and learn the strengths and weaknesses of each team member. The roles can be assigned to team members based on their skills and strengths, allowing the team to be more effective as a whole. A clear understanding of the team member’s roles helps the team prevent possible conflicts in the future by one team member disrespecting others or overstepping his or her role. (Sethi, 2005).
Some of the roles that can exist in a team are that of a coach, a reviewer, and a recorder. The coach most likely will be in charge of getting the team together and breaking down the tasks that each team member will be responsible for. This team member may also set up the schedule of where and when the team will meet. He or she may also outline each assignment so every team member will know what he or she needs to do to complete the assignment. After the coach creates the outline for the assignment, he may send a copy to the reviewer so he or she can look it over to make sure everything looks suitable. The reviewer should also look over the final project before turning the project in to ensure each part of the projects is complete and included. Finally the team has the recorder, who is in charge of keeping notes of everything that goes on during team meetings. When the team meets to work on the project as a whole, the recorder puts together a summary of what the team worked on and what tasks were completed. (Group and Team Dynamics, n.d.).
There are some advantages to forming a team to complete a project. First, the more people working together the easier the project can be, because they can use their different skills and life experiences. Next, when one person in the team is at a loss for words another team member might be able to jump in and help with the needed word. Another advantage of forming a team is the project can be broken down into different tasks. Each team member takes part of the work making the project a little easier and less stressful to complete. Another advantage is when each task is complete the other team members can review the work and piece the tasks together so everything flows smoothly. Finally, if a team member is struggling with part of a task the other team members can step in and help them figure things out.
There are also disadvantages to forming a team. First, the team members’ schedules may cause the team not to have time getting together. Next, the team might have a member that is not willing to listen to anything and is always right no matter what the situation might be. The team may not always agree on where to meet or how the tasks are broken down. There is always a chance that the team will have someone who does not want to anything that is asked of him or her. Finally, diversity between the team members could cause misunderstanding of assignments or maybe even miscommunication that could cause the group to argue over how tasks should be completed.
We will now move from the dynamics of teams and positive and negative aspects of teams and go on to discuss possible conflicts that can affect a team’s ability to achieve its goals. In fact, a teams overall success will depend on its ability to identify negative conflicts in the team itself and resolve them. In our next section we will discuss the different types of conflict that a team will deal with, the attitudes team members will have to certain types of conflict, and ways of resolving those conflicts.
Conflict is “mental struggle resulting from incompatible or opposing needs, drives, wishes, or external or internal demands” (Webster, 2005). Conflict is inevitable and necessary within a team and can be either beneficial or harmful to the team and its goal. Based on the team member’s perceptions and attitudes, conflict has the ability to be constructive or destructive in nature.
Constructive conflict is conflict brought on by flexible team members who are open to other member’s input and value everyone’s contributions. Constructive conflict can be expressed through disagreement between team members, as long as the conflict promotes the team’s goals and is resolved in a healthy manner. (Holahan, 2004)
Destructive conflict is conflict that prevents the achievement of a team’s goal and destroys team unity. Team members engage in destructive conflict when they are hostile to each other, constantly criticize other member’s input, and disagree with ideas. Team members who have destructive conflict tendencies show no flexibility to or for other team members. Destructive conflict has the ability to disable a team from functioning altogether. (Holohan, 2004)
Understanding the characteristics of team member’s perceptions and attitudes can help assist in resolving team conflicts. Team member’s perceptions and attitudes can be classified into one of the following five conflict styles: avoidance, accommodation, competition, compromise, and collaboration. (Smallwood, n.d.).
The avoidance conflict style is counterproductive in nature. A team member who uses the avoidance conflict style will suppress perceived problems and start to resent other team members. As the resentment grows, the individual will either gradually withdraw or will explode. (Smallwood, n.d.).
Accommodation conflict style can be considered a “cousin” to the avoidance style. A team member who uses the accommodation conflict style is one who has an overwhelming urge to yield his concerns to those of his team members. Accommodation style can grow from a desire to avoid conflict or from an inferiority complex. A person who accommodates his team members runs a risk of being taken advantage of. (Smallwood, n.d.).
Team members who are motivated to first achieve their personal goals rather than the group’s goals use competition conflict style. Team members who use the competitive conflict style will do anything to achieve their goal even if it is at the expense of other teammates. The competition conflict style can take the form of overt aggression or passive aggression. (Smallwood, n.d.).
Compromising conflict style is generally perceived as a positive step towards conflict resolution. A team member who uses the compromising conflict style will identify with both sides of the conflict and try to help them to negotiate by having both sides give something up and get something they want. Compromising can have a negative effect on a teammate due to the fact that the he or she had to settle. (Smallwood, n.d.).
The collaboration conflict style involves working with team members to resolve a conflict while recognizing the input of all team members involved. A team member who uses the compromising conflict style will address the conflict in objective terms, actively listen to teammates, and share responsibility for the resolution. Collaboration can be a negative effect in that it requires a great deal of time and energy to resolve the conflict. (Smallwood, n.d.).
Understanding the diversity of team members is another aspect in identifying possible team conflicts. Teams will typically consist of members who are of different ages, sexes, ethnicities, and religions. These team members will have values, expectations, and personalities that will factor into the overall attitude of the team.
Understanding a team member’s conflict style and their characteristics is not enough to allow a team to resolve internal and external conflicts that might arise. A team must create a system for resolving any conflicts that could undermine the team’s overall success at meeting their goal. One system that was created to address the process of conflict resolution is the four Rs methodology (Engelbert et al., 2003), which consists of: reasons, reactions, results, and resolution.
During the first process, reasons, the team will identify the possible reasons for the conflict. The team will discuss if the conflict is procedural, personality, attitude, or something akin to the preceding. (Engelbert et al., 2003).
The second process, reactions, calls for the team to identify if the individual member’s reactions are unbiased in nature. If the reactions are unbiased, the team will identify if the consequences are constructive or destructive in nature. (Engelbert et al., 2003).
The third process, results, requires the team to discuss any possible consequences the team’s goal will face if the conflict is left unattended. (Engelbert et al., 2003).
The final process, resolution, calls on the team to work together to discover what methods are applicable in mediating and resolving the conflict. Depending on the severity of the conflict, the team can choose different resolution styles, negotiate, mediate, or arbitrate, to help resolve the issue. (Engelbert et al., 2003).
Teams work better with close bonds among group members. Paradoxically however, the more individual team members consider each other friends, the more the performance of the team suffers. Such teams tend to resist input from external sources, relying instead on their own knowledge. Problems such as these can be reduced by thinking outside the box or by having one team member be a “devil’s advocate” (Labianca, 2004).
Resolving conflicts among groups containing friends requires special techniques. It is easy to hurt a team member’s feelings, especially if their friend or friendship seems to under attack.
Conflicts among teammates on a team containing friends might manifest itself in different manners. These all result from the bond between friends being greater than the bond among teammates. This can disrupt the natural forming-storming-norming- performing cycle of team creation. It may be difficult to integrate the close friends into the team.
In one case, close friends might exclude new team members or a existing team member. If this happens the team will be fractured and will not perform up to its full potential as one or more of the team members will not be fully participating.
Close friends might also withdraw from the rest of the team. They might whisper and laugh among themselves, especially when a specific group member is around. They might abruptly stop talking when other team members come near or are around. This is sure to disrupt the trust and flow of communication among the team.
Another way close friends might withdraw from the team is if, due to their intimate knowledge of each other, they refuse to consider other team members point of views or potential for contributing to the team. They may jealously horde tasks among themselves instead of acknowledging that others in the team could do the tasks.
In all these cases, the other team members must act if they wish to save the team and let it perform at its optimum potential. The Four R methodology discussed above (Englebert et al., 2003) provides an excellent framework for action. In a non-judgmental manner, the other team members can identify, discuss and solve the issue. This might consist of pairing the close friends up with different members of the group so they will learn to trust the others. Perhaps the team could randomly assign tasks to ensure all does their fair share and can contribute. Bringing in an outside resource to mediate the situation might also be very helpful, as the outsider will be viewed as non-biased and free of influence from within the group.
We have just discussed the properties of a good team, the roles team members typically fill in a team setting, the advantages, the disadvantages, and how to identify and resolve conflict that may arise in a team setting. We have also covered that teams are a necessity for businesses in today’s ever-changing workforce environment. Teams allow members to combine different talents and skills in order to reach a common goal more efficiently.
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Labianca, J. (2004, October). The Ties That Blind. Harvard Business Review, 82 (12), 19.
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