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Resolving Team Conflicts Effectively With Solution-Focused Coaching

written byErickson Coaching Internationalon 25/06/2020

Resolving team conflict is a critical aspect for healthy and high performing teams, however, many team leaders avoid tackling this tricky issue due to a lack of tools and skills. There is a full suite of Solution-Focused coaching tools, that when properly applied, create high trust environments, where constructive conflict can be used to support innovation, solutions, and performance.

The problem with avoiding conflict resolution

The toxicity created by procrastinating or avoiding conflict results in an erosion of trust and culture that the team has worked hard to create. Additionally, avoidance can result in conformance to the status quo and may create the perception that different perspectives are unwelcome. Reduction in sharing or ideas and opinions can easily eradicate a culture of creativity and growth.

Conflict does not mean the workplace is functioning improperly - it’s a prime opportunity to learn, grow, and a valuable asset for leveraging diversity for creative problem-solving.

Engage in problem-solving

Problem-solving means resolving the actual problem, not the symptoms. For example, mediating a squabble between teammates is addressing a symptom, not the actual issue. The keyword here is solving. When conflict arises, it can be easier to address the symptoms of the problem rather than solve it. As Henry David Thoreau famously said, "There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to the one who is striking at the root."

Learn more about developing a culture of trust and empowerment in your organization.

Solution-Focused leaders recognize conflict as an important part of progress and success. They see various perspectives and opinions as the diversity required to achieve results and encourage team members to introduce alternative, progressive ways of addressing issues, thereby not just making the problem go away but getting to the root of the issue and providing an environment for healthy growth. 

In addition to capitalizing on team members' diversity, a leader utilizing Solution-Focused coaching skills can engage in problem-solving by focusing clearly on a vision larger than the immediate conflict. This changes the lens through which you see your team, allowing you to see a new approach with multiple potential resolutions.

Approaching conflict in a Solution-Focused way, leaders first ask themselves these questions:

  • What am I not paying attention to?
  • What does each person value, and how is this explaining their behavior?
  • How else can we use our strengths and in what way?

These questions help highlight and understand the issue more deeply as well as allow potential solutions to emerge.

Tri-Position Planning

Once the key questions are asked and there is clarity on the issue, another Solution-Focused coaching tool that can be applied in resolving the conflict is Tri-Position Planning. This tool helps team members experience growth amidst conflict. Tri-Solution Planning focuses on three ways of thinking: visionary, planner and wise advisor. These thought processes help remove roadblocks and issues facing teams by allowing a conversation that focuses on the solution. This exercise helps focus on the solution and not the problem by using very specific questions, for example:

  • "Describe what you believe would be an ideal outcome/solution for you and the organization. What would be an avenue for arriving at an optimal solution for you and for the company?" (Visionary)
  • "How do you suggest we address similar issues going forward? How could a situation like this be handled in a healthy way in the future?" (Planner)
  • "If you were to ask a mentor for advice on this, what do you think they would say?" (Wise Advisor)

Focusing on future-based potential solutions invites team members to consider ideal solutions, opening up a proactive and positive conversation about the conflict, as opposed to focusing on negativity.

Things to avoid

Effective problem resolution requires sensitivity and discerning judgement. Things to avoid during conflict resolution are:

  • Avoid team members feeling unheard and undervalued. In crafting and deciding on a solution, acknowledge and recognize the validity of each individual’s opinions and feelings. If that doesn't happen, employees may feel that their opinion or concern is wrong or pointless. A Solution-Focused leader understands each team member and allows their voices to be heard.
  • Avoid a lack of structure. While there should be space for communication and understanding, a lack of structure can make the problem explode. Don't let the resolution go unchecked. Provide instruction on the plans to meet and give each team member an opportunity to professionally share their side of the story as well as a potential resolution to moving forward.
  • Avoid bias. Even if the leader feels they understand the situation fully and know who they agree with, it is vital each team member must trust your objectivity. Letting emotions or preferences overrule logical judgement will only lead to further conflict.

Engaging in conflict resolution can be a daunting task, but when leaders have the appropriate tools, conflict can become a stepping stone to growth.

To become the type of leader who is well-prepared for handling conflict resolution, reaping the benefits of multiple perspectives and developing a high performing team, contact Erickson Coaching International today.