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Two co-workers having a go at it at the workplace

Workplace Conflict as Catalyst: Transforming Challenges with Dialogue

Conflict is an unavoidable part of any vibrant, growing organization. When harnessed correctly, it can be a powerful driver for innovation, bringing about diverse perspectives and leading to improved decision-making. For anyone working in team building, transforming conflict into opportunity is essential to building resilient, high-performing teams.

The Consultant Experience

A software development company recently lost one of its project managers to a rival company. This project manager was a figurehead and led one of the biggest departments in the company. Weeks later, the company filled the spot by hiring a young but well-established project manager. Let's name this project manager Anthony. 


But Anthony was met with derision instead of being welcomed by the department. At the first department meeting, he proposed changes in the workflow system that would make everything run more efficiently and smoothly. The programmers shut his ideas down, citing that  "this was how they always did it"  and that  "there was no reason to reinvent the wheel."  The veteran programmers never took his role as the project manager seriously; only some people on his team listened to whatever he had to say. His "lack of control over the entire team" slowed down multiple projects within the company, as observed by his superiors. 


The company's owners hired the teambuilding expert Stephanie to solve this problem. She conducted different intake interviews for the onboarding: one with the new project manager, a representative from one of the programming teams, and the company's owners. She then proposed a three-day program to solve this problem. 


The day before the teambuilding program, she arrived unannounced to the entire team. On her arrival, she met with the company's owners. The project manager gave her a recording of a recent department meeting. Imagine her surprise when things were far worse than she anticipated.

The Hidden Benefit of Conflict: Strengthening Team Dynamics

Does the scenario from the previous paragraph feel familiar? If you're a teambuilding expert or a consultant like Stephanie, you could have gone through or solved something remotely similar to what she was trying to solve. In the real world, Anthony's situation isn't exactly uncommon either. Teams may lose their leaders for different reasons, but the impact is still the same across the board. 


A new leader or figurehead is met with hesitance, criticism, and even hostility because team members are resistant or reluctant to adapt to change. This resistance or reluctance becomes a breeding ground for conflict and friction. But in the case of Anthony and his team, you might ask the following questions: 

  • Why wasn't Anthony more authoritative? 

  • Why did Anthony allow people to step on him? 

  • Why was Stephanie hired if the issue was Anthony as a leader? 


We can talk all day about Anthony's lapses as a leader. It may be a different topic in and of itself. Maybe Anthony wasn't expecting that level of resistance when he took on the role. Perhaps he was used to winning over teams immediately. However, there are other focus points here than Anthony. For Stephanie to get the team back together, she has to let them work through the conflict. 


Believe it or not, workplace conflict can strengthen team dynamics. When managed well, conflicts encourage open communication and foster a culture of transparency. Teams learn to express their ideas and concerns more freely, leading to better collaboration and mutual respect. This openness is crucial for building a resilient and adaptable team.

Transforming Workplace Conflict into Opportunity

Team-building facilitator navigating conflict between two teammates

One of the biggest challenges in team building is working through conflict and turning it into a productive force for the company's good. From the eyes of a teambuilding facilitator or consultant, this is a lot easier said than done. Considering Anthony's case study above, a facilitator would follow a process similar to the one below: 

Open Up a Space for Conversation

To harness conflict, you need to create an open space for everyone on the team to express themselves openly, honestly, and without fear of judgment. People involved in the conversation need to feel secure about what they can say and object to. As the facilitator, you must ensure the space is always sacred. 


Some teambuilding experts even treat this conversation space as Las Vegas—" whatever happens in Vegas stays in Vegas." Whatever transpires or is said in the conversation must remain within the space. Team members should not weaponize the dialogue against one another. 

Allow Everyone to Speak

As a teambuilding facilitator, it is also your job to maintain the pace and flow of the conversation. Everyone involved needs to speak their mind without offending other team members. Some facilitators out there use a facilitation tool, like a ball or a stuffed animal, to dictate the flow of the conversation. Whoever has the tool will be the only one to speak, and everyone else will listen. Facilitators will give ample time for people involved in the conversation to comment, object, or agree with what is being said. 

Encourage Constructive Conflict

To encourage constructive conflict, teambuilding experts and facilitators should set clear guidelines and boundaries for respectful communication. They need to make sure that the guidelines are followed at all times. Sometimes, conversations get segued into a different topic, so facilitators must keep the conversation on track. Depending on the facilitator, there are instances where segues are allowed, so as long as the point they make contributes to the whole conversation. Other team members can also help police the conversation space as needed. 

Let the Team Speak Up!

They say effective communication is one of the most effective tools for conflict management. Miscommunication often causes conflicts between team members within an organization. A culture of openness and psychological safety must be cultivated and maintained to reduce miscommunication within the organization. 

Introducing Speak Up by metaFox

metaFox's Speak Up is a 60-piece card set that contains exciting, fun, and provocative prompts that help foster a framework for authentic discussions between team members in workshops, team meetings, or retrospectives. 

The cards are divided into five categories with 12 cards each, namely: 

  •  Explosives : For honest statements with a bit of spice

  •  Shoe Swap : For new perspectives and different viewpoints

  •  Emotional Wave : To surf the waves of emotions

  •  Compliments Corner : Gentle compliments that touch the soul

  •  After-effect : For concluding rounds in the takeaway box

Using Speak Up for Constructive Conflict Resolution

Tensions resulting from conflict are never easy to deal with, but with the help of Speak Up, team members can constructively engage with one another about unspoken team issues. This "Elephant Dance" exercise can accommodate up to 15 participants plus one facilitator. 

How Would The Elephant Dance Exercise Work?

The Elephant Dance Exercise is designed to tackle the often-unspoken issues within a team, aiming to resolve blockages and ease tensions. This exercise spans an hour and a half to two hours, providing ample time to delve into the emotions surrounding these issues and plan for their resolution. As the facilitator, you set up a meeting within this timeframe, ensuring enough time to explore all concerns thoroughly. As the meeting starts, remember to underscore the importance of creating a safe space where everyone feels comfortable expressing their pent-up emotions.


Lay the cards face up in the center of the room for all participants to see. Each person selects a card containing prompts to help them articulate their feelings. Participants take turns reading their chosen cards aloud, completing the sentences as directed. They may elaborate on their responses, although further explanation is optional. As the discussion unfolds, your job as the facilitator is to diligently note critical points on a flipchart, helping to visualize core problems and connections between them. This visual aid clarifies and prioritizes the issues the team needs to address.


Once all cards have been presented and important points recorded, encourage the team to collaborate and brainstorm potential solutions. They discuss each proposed idea and decide on specific actions, assigning responsibilities to ensure follow-through. To wrap up the session positively, use the Compliments Corner cards, allowing team members to end the exercise by sharing words of appreciation and encouragement. The meeting concludes only after all issues have been addressed and clear action points have been established, leaving the team with a sense of direction and resolution.

Conclusion

Workplace conflict, when managed effectively, can become a catalyst for more robust team dynamics. As seen in Anthony's situation, resistance and friction can pave the way for open communication and mutual respect within a team. By confronting and navigating through conflicts, teams can build resilience and adaptability, which are essential for long-term success. 

Take Action

The role of a teambuilding expert and facilitator like Stephanie is crucial; they must guide teams through these rough patches, ensuring that every voice is heard and respected. Workplace conflict will always be here to stay, and you must ensure you know how to help your clients wade these waters. Using tools such as Speak Up will allow you to traverse the thin lines of communication between team members effectively, giving you the power to turn conflict into a driving force for a collaborative culture within the workplace.