When teamwork isn’t working – resolving conflict

Claire* was frustrated. ‘The project itself is going great,’ she told me during a session, ‘but the atmosphere in the team is terrible. I’m all for healthy debate and I don’t expect everyone to agree all the time, but two of the team are at odds with each other and it’s having an impact on us all. I need to come up with a plan.’

Before we set to work on a plan, I wanted to know more about what was going on. Claire gave me background about the team as a whole and her perspective on the working (or should we say ‘not working’?) relationship between Sarah and James*.‘They’re both very talented and good at what they do but they’re competing with each other and it’s getting out of hand. It reminds me of two children fighting over a board game: it feels like any minute now, one of them is going to tip over the board and storm off. I can’t fix it for them but as their manager, I need to find a way to facilitate a better working relationship between them. I’ve talked to them both individually but they don’t seem to be able to talk to each other about it.’


We worked through Claire’s options for dealing with the situation and she came up with the following plan.

  • Gain acknowledgment from both parties of the existence of the conflict
  • Understand the impact of the conflict on each other and on the team
  • Gain their commitment to deal with it
  • Ask them each to acknowledge the value the other adds to the team
  • Ask each of them to describe their current relationship
  • Ask each of them how they would like it to be
  • Ask each of them to describe three specific ways in which they can work towards creating the better relationship they just described
  • Discuss the potential impact of these actions on the team and on each other
  • Commit to the specific actions
  • Agree a timescale in which to review them

A couple of weeks she’d held the meeting with Sarah and James, Claire called me to update me on how it went. ‘It wasn’t the easiest conversation I’ve ever had but having got them to commit to dealing with the situation, we ploughed on with it and by the end of the session, we’d agreed a way forward. It’s early days but I’m already seeing a change in the way they behave towards each other. What’s even better, they are noticing it themselves and so is the team.’

Today’s pebble for you to ponder: whether it’s your children going through a tough patch with each other or a tricky working relationship between colleagues, how can you help facilitate resolution of that conflict?

Any thoughts?

*All names have been changed.

Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching. 

If you’d like to make progress in your work and life, email me and let’s have a conversation about how we can work together.

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