Conflict on a team is inevitable. On diverse teams, where individuals come from varying backgrounds and possess differing opinions, those opinions will clash often in the form of disagreements and conflicts. Understanding the types of team conflict that can arise in a team setting is crucial for effective management and resolution.
In this article, we will delve into the four types of team conflict: relationship conflict, task conflict, status conflict, and process conflict.
Each type of conflict has its unique characteristics, causes, and potential solutions. By understanding these conflicts, leaders can respond appropriately in the moment, setting the team up to harness the benefits of conflict rather than letting it become a destructive force.
The first type of team conflict is relationship conflict. This is a type of conflict that arises from differing personalities, experiences, and identities. This type of conflict can undermine trust and belonging on the team, creating a negative atmosphere. It’s crucial for leaders to address relationship conflicts promptly and effectively to prevent them from escalating.
Resolving relationship conflict requires empathy and understanding. Private discussions between conflicting individuals can help identify triggers and allow for open communication. It’s important to focus on specific behaviors and their impact, rather than making accusations or assuming motives. By addressing the behavior rather than the person, leaders can help individuals understand how their actions affect the team and encourage them to adjust their behavior accordingly.
The second type of team conflict is task conflict. This is a positive type of conflict that arises from differing opinions on how to complete tasks. This type of conflict can be harnessed to encourage discussion and find the best plan of action. It indicates that the team is leveraging diversity for better performance.
When dealing with task conflict, it’s important to avoid personal attacks and assumptions. Instead, leaders should encourage team members to ask intelligent questions about the assumptions behind ideas. By discussing different perspectives openly, the team can increase the chances of finding the best way to achieve tasks. This type of conflict, when managed properly, can lead to innovative solutions and improved team performance.
The third type of team conflict is status conflict. This involves power struggles and hierarchy within the team. Unlike task conflict, status conflict has no positive outcome and can create a toxic work environment. It’s crucial for leaders to address status conflicts promptly and effectively to prevent them from escalating.
Status conflict is about people’s opinions of their position in an invisible hierarchy within the team. To address this type of conflict, leaders can create rituals and experiences that signal equality and discourage status games. It’s also important for leaders to lead by example and send the message that everyone’s opinion is valued equally, regardless of their position in the team.
The final type of team conflict is process conflict. This conflict arises from disagreements about how tasks are delegated and the best process for achieving them. This type of conflict can be resolved by getting to know team members’ strengths and weaknesses and explaining decisions that may go against their preferences.
Process conflict can occur when there are differing opinions on who should do a task or when someone tries to avoid responsibility. By understanding team members’ strengths and weaknesses, leaders can delegate tasks more effectively and prevent process conflicts. It’s also important to explain decisions that may go against team members’ preferences to prevent process conflict from turning into status conflict.
As a leader, understanding the different types of team conflict is crucial for effective conflict management. By responding to each type of conflict in the moment and setting the team up to harness the benefits of conflict, leaders can foster a positive and productive work environment. Remember, conflict isn’t necessarily a bad thing. When managed properly, it can lead to team’s having their best ideas and individuals doing their best work ever.
About the author
David Burkus is an organizational psychologist, keynote speaker, and bestselling author of five books on leadership and teamwork.