Lesson 1, Topic 1
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2.6. Team Member Preparation

ryanrori February 7, 2021

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Teams are a powerful force in organisations. They are assembled to tackle complex and strategic issues within a company. Often the membership is a select group of people from different departments, each with special skills or talents to solve a particular problem. However, what is often lacking is training in the core competencies of working on a team. In order for a team to be successful, it is essential that members know the basics of conflict resolution, delegation, and consensus building. Without these skills, each member must rely on whatever they have learned on their own, or the facilitator’s skills, in moving the team through these struggles. This is not an ideal way to manage teams, and reduces the synergistic benefits of team-based activities.

Every organisation or group should develop a strategy for training and preparing team members for the group process. One example that is a good model was an initiative at Monmouth University (Gahr, 1995). It involved the Student Life organisation -the Program Director, the staff, the administration, and the students. They used training to proactively manage conflict, and the results were positive. 

Here is a brief overview of the training phases they used: 

Stage 1 – Conflict resolution awareness- overview, examples, stimulated need to change and learn. 

Stage 2 – Conflict resolution training – workshops to learn skills and techniques for managing situations of conflict. 

Stage 3 – Mediation training – aimed at selected leaders of each segment of the population, that would become certified mediators, and provide future support. 

Stage 4 – Reinforcement workshops – informal sessions to perpetuate the concepts and continue improving people’s awareness and ability to manage conflict. 

Stage 5 – Institutionalisation of the program – assignment of the on-going support, maintenance, and mediation services to a specific organisation. 

The Monmouth University project has three key ingredients that should be a part of any group skills training. First, it trains everyone- group members and group leaders. Without that, you have not given everyone the tools to help the process. Second, it focuses on what conflict is, and how to manage it. This gives the participants some skills to not only recognise conflict, but to also take action. Lastly, it has reinforcement built in. These are not easy skills to learn, so continual repetition is critical to truly internalising them. 

Team Leader’s Role in Managing Conflict

Conflicts are part of individual relationships and organisational development, and no relationship or organisation can hope to mature to productivity and be successful without being able to resolve conflicts effectively. Clearly, one of the main responsibilities of any manager or group leader is to resolve conflict. The two key goals for a group leader are to remain impartial, and to facilitate understanding among the group members. 

As a team leader, one must realise the paradox that surrounds conflict. The team needs to embrace conflict as a means of generating and evaluating ideas. While at the same time, it must shy away from it to prevent anger, frustration, or alienation. The biggest challenge for the team leader is figuring out how to balance these two forces. 

Preventative Strategies

The first step in conflict management is learning how to prevent or minimise conflict. A team leader has several ways to do that. Here are just a few:

At the beginning of each project, or each meeting, ground rules should be developed. These should incorporate processes or behaviours that the group will allow or prohibit. Ground rules can be useful because as conflict arises, the leader can refer the team back to them for guidance. These tend to be good objective guidelines, which remove the leader from the role of enforcer. 

Another technique is to develop a team agreement on how the group will resolve conflict if it does occur. This gets them to focus on good resolution behaviours, and prepares the team with a process that is available if necessary. 

As mentioned previously, training in conflict resolution or communication skills would be invaluable to a team. It would be preferable if the team could attend this training as a group. 

Finally, it is important to focus on goals of the team early in the process. Often conflict arises from goal misalignment, and if this is uncovered and cleared up early, then it could minimise problems later. If new members are added to the team, then it would be beneficial to revisit this exercise again.