How to reduce conflict in teams

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Discover the 3 key factors for a successful team

If you’re finding that despite well-defined team processes, your projects are still late, people aren’t holding each other accountable, trust is an ongoing issue, and you’re spending more time resolving conflicts than you’d like, you’re not alone.

Most successful teams reach a crisis point where the team performance suffers.

It is a truism that successful teams are made up of successful people who have strong personalities, are very determined/motivated and are comfortable expressing their opinions. The same personal drivers and strengths that make individuals successful will also cause conflict that affects overall team performance.

New research suggests building a successful team isn’t just about having a corporate team concept or well-defined roles and responsibilities, although those are important, it is all about the people and 3 key factors that a team must have to ensure it is a high performing team.

Researcher Jeroen de Jong of the Open University of the Netherlands and his colleagues from Tilburg University examined over 70 management teams from eight European organisations to discover what the underlying people factors were that affected a team’s success or failure.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the results showed that almost half (44%) of the teams had at least one person who caused negative feeling and conflict between individuals that affected the team cohesion and performance.  

These results highlight that having one bad apple in a barrel…. or rather having one person with negative emotions or bad feelings is enough to cause significant conflict that will impact on the team performance.

Importantly, the research pinpointed the 3 main factors that every successful team must have to reduce the impact of negative feelings and conflict and improve overall team performance.

These factors were:

1)      Frequent in-team communication

2)      Interdependent working

3)      High-quality social exchanges

Teams who had these 3 factors were able to manage individuals who expressed negative emotions or caused conflict and improve the overall team performance.

In other words, successful teams had team members who regularly communicated with each other. This provided them with more opportunities to respond to tensions and conflicts as they arose.

Successful teams worked together on tasks and were used to jointly finding innovative solutions (i.e work interdependently). Therefore, they were comfortable working together to develop new ways to live or deal with issues that they found troubling in others.

Finally, successful teams who consistently had high-quality social exchanges (i.e. their social exchanges were based on a good understanding of each others’ background, their motivations and their personality), were more orientated towards accepting and understanding others different perspectives and finding a mutually beneficial solution. So those teams had people in them that had developed their Emotional Intelligence and used it to understand others.

Interestingly, further analysis showed that that for teams where members worked together to solve a task and were able to have high-quality social exchanges, the harmful effects of negative feelings and conflict on overall team performance completely disappeared.

However, those teams that enjoyed frequent in-team communication but without the two other factors, did not enjoy the same benefit.

The EBW View

The implication of the research findings is clear: Not suprisingly, frequent communication is helpful in preventing negativity and conflict among team members. Leaders who create situations/teams that have to work together and importantly have high-quality social exchanges will have teams that are more resilient and better able to find a solution to conflict that impacts on their performance.

Like a lot of things in life it sounds simple, but in our experience many team leaders (in this research 44% of teams suffered with conflict) find it difficult to implement a successful developmental strategy for the team and spend too much time and effort managing unnecessary conflict.

Don’t let your team’s productivity suffer through miscommunications, lack of understanding of others and inability to cope with conflict. Develop your workers’ Business Emotional Intelligence with the help of the EBWt Team approach.

To find out how to use the EBWt Team System to reduce conflict and improve performance in leaders and teams click this link


de Jong, J., Curşeu, P., & Leenders, R. (2014). When do bad apples not spoil the barrel? Negative relationships in teams, team performance, and buffering mechanisms. Journal of Applied Psychology, 99(3), 514-522. DOI: 10.1037/a0036284