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Team Responsibilities: Managing Conflict and Poor Performance
By Rich Meiss • Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Creating High Performing Teams Series: IV


Team Responsibilities:  Managing Conflict and Poor Performance

By Rich Meiss


Once teams understand their reasons for existing and have developed trusting relationships, their next major step in becoming a high performing team (HPT) is to develop a climate of responsibility that nurtures open communication and good idealogical conflict.


Conventional wisdom is that teams should minimize conflict, and while that is certainly true regarding interpersonal conflict, teams on their way to high performance embrace idealogical conflict.  This validates the concept that “when two people on a team always agree, one of them is unnecessary.”  Team members should feel free to disagree with each other, spending time respectfully debating key ideas and issues, and then work towards a consensus solution that will be in the best interest of the team.  Let’s examine these two sides of conflict.


Non-Productive Interpersonal Conflict

Interpersonal conflict is usually non-productive and should be avoided as much as possible in team settings.  There are three basic types of inter-personal conflict:

1.     Conflicting methods – Team members disagree on “how” to achieve the goal.

2.    Conflicting needs or goals – Team members disagree on “what” to achieve.

3.    Conflicting values - Team members disagree on “why” something should be done.


In our team seminars, we encourage participants to work towards the resolution of  conflict by staying on TRACK:

T – Type the conflict.  Ask:  “Is this a conflict of methods, needs or values?

R – Respect others.  Use words, tone and body language that convey respect.

A – Ask what they need.  Then listen to their needs, and restate them to check for understanding. 

C – Clearly state your needs.  Keep your message short and to the point, but say what you need and mean what you say.

K – Know you can succeed.  Work towards a win-win situation.


Non-productive interpersonal conflict usually occurs because of our natural human tendency to either fight or flee.  Depending on our DISC personality style (see the article titled “Team Relationships:  Understanding Style and Building Trust”), each of us has a natural tendency when under stress, as follows:


Style                           Natural Behavior Under Stress


D - Directers                Tendency toward “demanding” behavior

I -  Interacters             Tendency toward “attacking” behavior

S - Supporters              Tendency toward “compliant” behavior

C - Calculaters             Tendency toward “avoidance” behavior


None of these behaviors is very effective, and seldom produces the results that we want.  So in team settings, it is important that members monitor their own tendencies, and work to minimize these natural behaviors.  The TRACK method can help with this.

A strong set of shared team values will also help to minimize conflict.   A conflict of values is more serious, however, and can often undermine a team’s efforts.  Values conflicts are seldom resolved.  Often the best choice is to agree to disagree, and work to maintain the relationship.  Over time, unresolved values conflicts will usually lead to the breakup of a team, or to someone leaving the team.  It is very important that team members share common values to be effective in the long run.


Productive Idealogical Conflict

To produce the best team results, members need to learn how to nurture productive idealogical conflict.  This is a conflict of concepts and ideas, with the purpose being to produce the best possible results for the team and all members.  A climate must be established that allows team members to feel comfortable disagreeing with each other’s points of view, debating those various points of view, and then determining how to come to agreement on how to proceed.


These three strategies will go a long way in fostering this culture of openly sharing and debating ideas:

1.     Agreeing on a set of shared values and standards of how to operat

2.    Learning about DISC styles and their natural methods in conflict, and coaching each other to success (for example, helping a team member with the supporting style to voice his/her opinions, as their natural tendency would be to comply with the wishes of others - especially stronger or more vocal members)

3.    Adopting some tools that promote good idealogical conflict.


Author Patrick Lencioni, in his book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, suggests utilizing two tools in team meetings that will foster productive conflict.  The first tool he calls “mining”.  This involves appointing someone on the team to be a “miner of conflict”.  This role can be rotated among team members. During team meetings, the miner of conflict is to dig out the buried ideas (those not being expressed), shine the light of day on them, and encourage the team to discuss and work through any idealogical conflict. The miner is constantly looking to dig out all the ideas of the group to help work towards implementing the best ideas.


The other tool is called “real-time permission”.  Facilitators of team meetings are encouraged to acknowledge productive conflict when it is happening between team members, and give “permission” for it to continue.  It might sound something like this:  “Bill and Tanya, this kind of discussion is exactly what we want in this meeting.  Keep sharing your honest thoughts and ideas around the ____ issue, so that we can work towards the best resolution.”  This acknowledgement by the leader or facilitator gives participants the permission they may need to share their best ideas.  These two tools – the miner of conflict and real-time permission – will help create a culture of honest sharing and good results in team efforts.


Creating a Coaching Culture

In addition to learning to minimize non-productive conflict and maximize productive conflict, effective teams cultivate an atmosphere that allows for honest communication about behavior.  Team members on high performing teams learn how to coach each other to greater results by complimenting and reinforcing good behavior, and confronting and re-directing poor behavior.  These are skills that build a coaching culture within the team or organization.  (For more ideas on effective coaching, refer to the series of articles on “Coaching for Results:  Five Roles of an Effective Coach”.)


An oft-repeated management axiom is that “behavior that gets rewarded,  gets repeated.”  This truthful statement suggests that to keep team members doing the right things, it is important to affirm their good behavior.  Team leaders recognize that one of their key tasks it to first identify what “good” behavior looks like – to agree on the standards of behavior that reinforce the team’s shared values and that will lead to the team’s stated performance objectives.  Once these “good” behaviors are identified, it is important that when they are reinforced when they occur.


Team members are encouraged to learn and use these three key elements of reinforcing good behavior:

1.    “When you see it, say it.”  Recognize the good behavior by saying something.

2.     “Be specific.”  Let the team member know specifically what he/she did that was good, and how their behavior reinforces the team’s stated values and standards.

3.     “Never let good work go unnoticed.”  Make sure to recognize the good behavior so that it will continue.


Someone once said:  “A pat on the back is only a few vertebrae removed from a kick in the pants, but it is miles ahead in the results it gets.”  People love to get feedback about their performance – especially when they are doing well.  Ken Blanchard calls feedback “the breakfast of champions.”  High performers recognize that to be champions, they need to know what they are doing well and what they could do better.  Complimentary feedback gives team members the assurance that they are doing the right things, and encourages them to continue.  It also promotes an atmosphere of people “catching each other doing things right”, which creates higher morale and usually leads to greater team results.


In our coaching seminars, we often ask managers why they don’t compliment and cheerlead good performance more often.  Answers range from “we pay them, don’t we – you mean we also have to tell them they are doing a good job?” to “we’re just too busy to take the time to compliment them.”  Most managers also agree, when they stop to think about it, that it would be good recognize good performance when they see it, and then take the time to tell employees what they did well.


High performing team members also recognize that they need to confront poor performance – to re-direct non-productive behaviors toward the stated values and standards of the team. 

Everyone on the team is encouraged to coach each other when they see unproductive behaviors occur that are leading away from performance objectives.  Regardless of reporting structures, coaching each other should be happening – up, down, and sideways.


The model for coaching poor performance looks like this:

1 – Begin by asking:  “Is this a good time to talk?”  This Joan Rivers Rule (Joan Rivers is famous for asking:  “Can we talk?”) signals the other person that we have a serious subject to talk to them about.

2 – Identify the non-productive behavior, by stating what you have observed.  Tell them plainly what you saw or heard.

3 – Review the values or standards.  Remind the offending party “what good looks like”.  State the agreed upon value or standard that has been broached.

4 – Wait for a response.  Allow the team member to respond to your statements.  If he/she agrees that they have fallen short, encourage them to live up to the values and standards.  If they rationalize or argue, remind them that it is your job as a fellow team member to hold them to the higher standard, and encourage them to live up to that.

5 – Ask for a win-win solution.  “How will you go about changing what you are doing?” might be an appropriate question to ask them.  Get their agreement to live up to that standard.


Most people admit that this is a more difficult task – to confront poor performance when they see it.  But they also agree that “what we allow, we teach!”  If we allow the person to continue to show up late for team meetings, for example, in a way we are teaching them that it is OK for them to be late.  By confronting the behavior, they are encouraging better team results.


Team members who routinely practice these key skills – managing conflict productively and coaching both good and poor performance – find that they are nourishing a culture of responsibility and results.  And they also find that they are well along the road of creating a high performing team!


Visit our web site at for information about the Creating High Performing Teams seminar.


© Copyright 2008.  Meiss Education Institute.  All rights reserved.



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