Team Building and Conflict Resolution
Teamwork and teambuilding are touted in all management, business and organizational newspaper articles, magazines and books, yet numerous companies either pay lip service to this tool or do not use it at all in their structure. Yet, it is an essential tool for internal and external effectiveness. In order for an organization to have high-quality products and services and be globally competitive, it needs people who are supportive and work together toward its mission and goals. If any conflict exists among employees, this will become a barrier in reaching strategy. Conflict resolution can be addressed through team efforts and lead to increased communication, consensus decisions and positive results. Unfortunately, too many companies do not consider the importance of managing conflict until a specific cause arises. Farsighted leadership organizations understand the need to have team procedures in place that will support management conflict and be available if and when a problem arises.
History of Team Development
The interactions of small groups have been of interest to social psychologists for sometime. However, it has only been in recent years that they began to look at teams and how they function within the organizational setting. The term “sociometry” first appeared in the Psychological Abstracts index in 1940 with references to the work of individuals such as psychiatrist Jacob Levi Moreno, and the term “group dynamics” was listed in 1945 with reference to the work of Kurt Lewin and his colleagues. The first use of “small groups” and “group interaction” was in 1950 in conjunction of researchers such as Robert Bale.
The actual use of the concept “team” did not appear in the Abstracts’ index until 1971, with a reference of educational institutions using the “team teaching method.” However the general heading of “teams” did not appear in the index until 1988, including 21 research studies about teams and how they were used in clinical practice, sports, business and the military. Finally, an article in that same year by Robert Lefton and Victor Buzzotta began to address the theme of “team work”
Buzzotta and Lefton had founded Psychological Associates much earlier in 1958 and were among the first to apply behavioral science methods to business solutions. In fact, so little information was available at this time, that these two psychologists designed their first training seminar using psychological research literature in basic interpersonal behavior, communications, and motivation.
Their first article “Teams and Teamwork,” was a study of 26 American executive teams with 275 CEOs, company presidents and vice presidents, many from the Fortune 500 companies, which found that “while these teams came much closer to the ideal than most, the members of the teams themselves acknowledged that less than 40% of their interaction could be called teamwork.” Most of the time, according to these leading executives, their interaction consisted of internal conflict and competition, in the worst case scenario, and non-listening and hypocritical agreement, in the best situations.
Lefton suggested that teamwork would not be possible with ineffective leadership and defined two basic management styles that negatively rather than positively impact teamwork: (1) the first was “hierarchical” or “formalistic” teams, where the individual members spend most of their time ratifying the leader’s demands and do not have the opportunity to critique them. The meetings that are held are formal, superficial and perfunctory, and (2) “circular” teams, where it is mistakenly believed that harmony and equality will bring results, rather than the more insightful give-and-take of discussions and collaboration. Instead, said Lefton, effective teams “are recognizable by the easy frankness that marks team discussions.” The team members are not afraid to disagree with one another, but recognize that this commitment will lead to a strong team effort. The team leader remains in charge, while encouraging the entire team to set strategy, problem solve and make decisions.
In 1989, Ned Rosen wrote the book Teamwork and the Bottom Line: Groups Make a Difference that began to look at the correlation of negative aspects of productivity and employee interaction and lack of teamwork. He stated, “The nation’s productivity and labor problems and achievements…are strongly influenced by group dynamics in work organizations. The enthusiasm displayed by space workers after a successful rocket launch reflects a common form of team spirit.” On the other hand, however, “chronic absenteeism, sub-standard productivity, negative attitudes, poor service, and shoddy workmanship are at least partly a function of inadequate attention to social organization in general and group dynamics in particular.”
About this time, certain corporations started to notice the strength of teambuilding as well. General Foods found out the importance of teamwork when it launched a line of ready-to-eat desserts by setting up a team of nine people with the freedom to operate like entrepreneurs starting their own business. It also was in charge of building a factory with the equipment needed to assemble and manufacture the product line. Normally, it took companies five to seven years to go from product idea to shipping, but teamwork put Jell-O Pudding Snacks desserts in grocery stores across the county within three years. It established a dominant market position that quickly was in the hundreds of millions of dollars of sales.
In 1988, William Ury, Jeanne Brett and Stephen Goldbert wrote Getting Disputes Resolved, which included guidelines for designing systems to assist organizations and other systems to handle conflicts effectively on an ongoing basis. They provided an in-depth case study of a labor/management conflict to illustrate the importance of this system. In order to make the grievance process more responsive to the concerns of the Miners Union, the authors devised an experiment, which had similarities to similar to early experiments with prison mediation. Miners and their supervisors met informally with outside mediators, who aided in discussions and created options for resolution. Some participants had the opportunity to choose mediation, others were referred automatically. If the parties were not able to reach an informal resolution in one meeting, the mediator offered additional motivation for a settlement by trying to predict the way an arbitrator would rule on the grievance.
There were significant results with 139 of the 153, or 89%, of the mediation conferences that were held during the experiment’s first year resulting in settlements. The settlement rates were the same no matter if the parties volunteered as mediators or were automatically sent as part of the grievance process. The average cost per case was $295, in comparison to the arbitration cost of $1,034, and the average time was 15 days, as compared to 109 in arbitration.
Most of those involved with the experiment agreed that seeking compliance with mediated settlements was easier to obtain than compliance with arbitration awards. In other words, the experiment not only showed how to greatly reduce the number of wildcat strikes but how to give individual miners more feeling of control over their problems. This concept of working together to resolve conflict then spread slowly to other industries, including telecommunications and retail sales.
Thus, by 1990, it was recognized that teams were an essential part of building a successful organization and that they could effectively be used for internal purposes, such a conflict resolution. Increasingly, companies began to incorporate teams into their strategy.
Building Effective Teams
However, it is not just the teams, alone, that are essential to an organization’s success. These teams needed to function effectively. They needed to be “built” in the correct way, in order to be a high-performance and efficiently running entity. Beckhard saw four major purposes of teambuilding: (1) to set goals or priorities; (2) to analyze or allocate the manner in which work is performed in agreement with the team members’ roles and responsibilities; (3) to look at the way a team is functioning together, such as norms, decision-making, and conflict management; and (4) to examine relationships among team members. Reilly and Jones defined teambuilding as the ability for a workgroup “to assess its strengths, as well as those areas that need improvement and growth.” Similarly, Dyer, in his seminal book on teambuilding, provided three checklists to analyze the need for teambuilding in a workgroup. Solomon defined teambuilding as “the introduction of a systematic, long-range plan for the improvement of interpersonal relationships among those workers who are functionally interdependent.”
These researchers recognized that teambuilding was one of the most important, if not the most important, strategies of organization development (OD). Effective and productive teams, at both the worker and supervisor level, are the essential outcome of most OD interventions. As organizations increase in structural complexity, teamwork, through such means as taskforces, and committees, is even more important. Experts agree that effective, successful, high performance teams have several similar characteristics. These are: clear goals, defined roles, open and clear communication, effective decision making, balanced participation, valued diversity, managed conflict, positive atmosphere, cooperative relationships and participative leadership. Beich in the Pfeiffer Book of Successful Teambuilding Tools: Best of the Annuals visualized these in a pyramid step fashion.
Beich stated that “The participative leadership block is not at the top of the model because it is the most important. It is at the top because it is the only block that can be removed without disturbing the rest. Participative leadership means that leaders share the responsibility and the glory, are supportive and fair, create a climate of trust and openness, and are good coaches and teachers” Overall, it means that leaders act as positive role models and that the leadership moves at varying times. For teams to be most productive, it is difficult to identify a leader during a casual observation. The result: in a successful company that reaches its strategic goals, the high-performing team members can achieve more together than all the individuals can apart on their own.
Intagliata, Ulrich, and Smallwood stated that leaders need to be “branded,” just as a company is, or, that is, have distinct qualities. Developing product brand in marketing is differentiating the product from other products of the same type. Leadership brand occurs when leaders at all levels of the organization clearly recognize the results that are the most important, develop an overall consistency about how they will attain these results, and then build qualities that line up with the accomplishment of these results. In brief, this takes place when personal attribute building integrates with achieving business results, or as Ulrich, Zenger and Smallwood stated: Effective Leadership= Attributes x Results.
Each company defines the leadership qualities that are essential based on its mission and strategy. The leadership brand thus becomes an integrated part into the daily activities of the organization. Companies that recognize the importance of teambuilding, for example, will define those leadership traits in line with this need. Thus, for example, the competency for this organization may be that a leader, “Enables team members to take ownership of their work and celebrates their successes so that talented employees feel more committed to their work team as measured by their retention and by an employee commitment index.” This approach to competency definition assures that, from the beginning, people are considering desired results, not just desired behaviors.
Jassawalla and Sa*****tal agreed that the leadership needed for building teams have to have certain attributes, styles or competencies to effectively handle the specific challenges they face in their roles. The first challenge is to build commitment to the team and teamwork through motivation and encouragement. Research finds that successful teams begin by gaining employee commitment to the new structure by training and continuous teambuilding and holding frequent team meetings, so all members have opportunities to get their ideas heard. Giving team members the autonomy to set their own goals and make decisions also provides them with a sense of ownership toward those aims
Leaders in high-effective organizations also reinforce the connection between the team members’ level of involvement and the extent to which they commit to the team’s collaborative goals. People are more prone to make a commitment when they believe they have control over their own participation and influence on how the team makes decisions. Understanding this need, leaders will take myriad of actions to develop this sense of control and belongingness. Similarly, while teams are empowered to make decisions that impact their operations, leaders are responsible for making sure the organization and team goals are aligned. Significant resources are designed toward training and teambuilding programs that are aimed at transforming department representatives into high caliber team members. They also make sure that there is a cross-functional teamwork structure, so that there is a mutual learning process and sharing of best practices.
Leadership and Communication
As noted above, the study of conflict resolution goes hand-in-hand with teambuilding, since teams are an effective way to manage conflict within an organization and keep it at its minimum for most productivity. Efficiently handling workplace conflicts is a key competency for success in any job role. Conflict in organizations is not a problem, but can actually be beneficial because of the differences of outlook and perspective. Well-managed conflict results in more creative, strategic, innovative, communicative and committed employees to the organization. Companies should not try to prevent conflict, but rather emphasize ways to prevent unresolved or destructive conflict.
One of the most important traits that leaders can have to manage conflict in an organization is communication. A study by Flauto suggested that communication competence is a prerequisite for effective leadership. In the study, one-hundred-fifty-one employees in nine separate companies rated the level of their immediate supervisor’s communication competence and used a three-dimensional integrated leadership model that categorized that manager’s perceived leadership effectiveness. All of the leadership dimensions, in addition to the model as a whole, was highly correlated with competent communication the supervisor.
This research responded to the global question, “How are communication leadership linked?” The participants in the organizations completed self-report instruments to rate their leaders’ behavior across three dimensions and their leaders’ communication competence across two dimensions. The traits for communication were defined as a combination of transactional transformational communication and the quality of exchange in leader-member dyads. This model was used to categorize the participants’ perceptions of their leaders’ effectiveness, and this effectiveness assessment was related to the members’ perceptions of leaders’ communication competence.
The same patterns were seen across all of the nine organizations. Each of the leadership dimensions were linked with communication competence, clearly showing that communication competence is a prerequisite for effective leadership. The three aspects that make up transformational leadership, or charisma, individual consideration, and intellectual stimulation, are based on communication. Transformational leadership is of high quality when the leader exhibits high communication competency. Dyads with high communication competence and low transformational leadership and those with low communication competence and high transformational leadership are non-existent.
There are certain communication skills that are important for leaders to have. One of the most important is the ability to truly listen to what a person is saying. This necessitates using the senses to hear and see the expression and body language that conveys the information and acknowledge and clarify that it has been seen, the brain to assimilate this information, and the body to demonstrate that it is understood and accepted.
It is also important in communication to think in equal terms. That is, win/win — not, “I win and you lose.” Then is the desire to try to understand the position of the other party, not just try to get one’s own message across. A lot of power comes from showing openness and appreciation of the other person’s position. Then the person perceives the other individual and the willingness to accept another position. The ultimate goal is to be able to explain the other person’s position as well as one’s own.
Positive communication requires recognizing that no one can accomplish anything by him or herself. It emphasizes the knowledge of the ultimate importance of building relationships in both one’s personal and professional life. Good listening skills are essential in building relationships. Similarly, leadership communication qualities include empathy. The goal is to first seek to understand and then, and only then, to be understood by another. It is important also to realize that empathy is not sympathy, to understand is not necessarily to agree, and that empathy is a skill that can be learned and practiced.
Types of Internal Conflicts
As previously noted, leaders are needed to build teams that deal with internal problems, such as personnel conflicts. Leaders need strong communication skills in order to build these teams and to help the team members work toward resolving the conflicts that arise. There are different types of conflicts that can occur. According to Larson and Myers, conflicts can be placed into the categories of relational, process oriented, and task oriented. Relational conflicts are described as interpersonal or affective. They consist of conflicts about the relationship that occurs between the conflict partners, rather than about the organization, duties, or work products. These types of conflicts often arise from power perceptions of power, or the lack of such power.
Process conflicts develop from disagreement that occurs from the completion of work duties or projects. Here, the emphasis is on the way to accomplish organizational goals, rather than on the goals themselves. Thirdly, task conflict, also referred to as substantive conflict, consists of disagreements that take place in regards to the fundamental goals of a group or organization, where individuals begin to clash over the outcome, purpose, or goals of a specific program or project.
Relational, process, and task conflict vary not only in the locus of concern or disagreement, that is, power, processes and goals, but also regarding the affect on employee satisfaction and performance. Jehn found that groups developed norms that allowed task conflict normally acceptable and resolvable with little negative impact. Actually, moderate to high levels of task conflict can result in having the group increase their levels of performance. However, the same is not true with relational and process conflict, both that are found to be barriers to employee satisfaction and performance.
Effective communication can be the key to resolving conflict. On the other hand, ineffective communication frequently may be the cause of, and exaggerate, conflict. Thinking of conflict can arouse strong, negative emotions, including anger, resentment and confusion, which ultimately affect communication in a negative manner and therefore greatly impede the resolution to the conflict.
According to Fisher and Ury, in conflict resolution, “screens” are another aspect that can impact communication. The sender and receiver of the message both have innate and intentional screens, of which they may or may not be aware. These screens can consist of a host of other personal factors, including norms, values, perceptions, assumptions, body language, facial expressions, emotional status, physical appearances, past personal experiences, stereotypes, cultural differences, nationality, race and gender, one’s use of the language, and positioning and power. These screens can be helpful or a detriment in communication, as long as a person is aware of their impact and utility.
In order for companies to be productive and to compete in the highly technical and fast-paced global world, they need their employees to work together on teams that bring effective results. Since not all teams will accomplish this, it is necessary for leaders to build groups that will work toward the strategic goals of the organization.
This is not possible if negative conflict exists with people in the group itself. Conflict, in and of itself, is not always a detriment. If used correctly, it can bring positive results, since different perspectives and viewpoints are brought into the mix. However, negative conflict will lead to the opposite. It creates barriers and will either stall or completely stop the communication process that is needed when building a team.
Every team will have a leader or leaders who work hand-in-hand with the members. These leaders are responsible for furthering the communication within the group as they build the team and using this communication to eliminate any negative conflict that exists.
Such leadership requires certain individuals who already have specific traits or are trained to acquire them. Above all, leadership is a people business. If a company promotes experience and skilled workers who do not have an interest in people and people issues, this will not bode will for the communication in the company. Too often, companies promote individuals who do not have the ability to interact with others and build teams that will further the organization’s goals and objectives. This will cause employees to be dissatisfied with work, lower their productivity, have conflicts between and among each other individually and cross-functionally and eventually to want to leave the company or actually leave. In all these cases, the company loses.
On the other hand, leaders who have strong interpersonal skills, the ability to manage conflict in a positive way, listen and be open to others and empathize with their needs and build teams that are strong and viable, will help lead the organization in a direction of strength and power. In this century’s demanding competitive environment, leaders must wear many hats as facilitators of change, coaches, mentors and teachers. This leadership stresses a total concern for people and is strongly supportive and encouraging of others. He or she allows people lots of scope and freedom to operate. The team that built will feel good about themselves and work together in a satisfactory way. Conflict is not avoided, but positively approached with individuals who care about each other and want to share areas of expertise.
These leaders need to establish a proactive environment and culture that encourages teamwork and motivates employees to do their best for both themselves and the company. They have to encourage innovation, in addition to inspire vision, creativity and empowerment. A company should continually be aware of promoting individuals who have the ability to lead others and thus lead the business to further success.
Beich, Elaine. The Pfeiffer Book of Successful Teambuilding: Best of Teambuilding. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass: 2001, 25.
Beckhard, Richard Organizational development. (Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1972).
Brett, Jeanne and Stephen B. Goldberg, “Grievance Mediation in the Coal Industry: A Field Experiment” Industrial & Labor Relations Review 37 no. 1 (January 1983).
Dyer, William. Team Building: Issues and Alternatives. Reading, MA: Addison Wesley, 1977.
Fisher, Roger and William Ury. Getting to Yes, Negotiating Agreement Without Giving in. New York: Penguin Books, 1991
Flauto, Frank. Walking the Talk: The Relationship between Leadership and Communication Competence. Journal of Leadership Studies 86 (1999)
Fulwiler, Richard D. Leadership and Communication Skills for the EHS Professional: Would
You Rather Be a Buffalo or a Goose?. Occupational Hazards. 67, no 9. (September 2005.), 33.
Hare, Paul a. Groups, Teams and Social Interaction: Theories and Applications. Westport, CT: Praeger Press, 1992.
Intagliata, Jim, Norm Smallwood and Dave Ulrich. “Leveraging Leadership Competencies to Produce Leadership Brand: Creating Distinctiveness by Focusing on Strategy and Results.” Human Resource Planning 23, no. 3. (2000),12.
Jassawalla, Avan R. And Hemant C. Sa*****tal, “Building Collaborative New Product Processes: Why Instituting Teams Is Not Enough.” SAM Advanced Management Journal 68, no.1 (2003). [electronic version]
Jehn, Karen. “A qualitative analysis of conflict types and dimensions in organizational groups.” Administrative Science Quarterly 42, (1997). 530-558.
King, Pamela. “What Makes Teamwork Work?” Psychology Today 23 (December 1989).
Larson, Sam and Laura L. Myers. Preparing Students for Early Work Conflicts. Business Communication Quarterly 68, no.3. (2005): 306+.
Lefton, Robert E. And V.R. Buzzotta. “Teams and Teamwork: A Study of Executive Level Teams.” National Productivity Review. 7 (1987-1988):7-19.
Reilly, Anthony and John. Jones. Team building. In J.W. Pfeiffer & J.E. Jones (Eds.), the 1974 annual handbook for group facilitators. (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Pfeiffer 1974), 99.
Rosen, Ned. Teamwork and the Bottom Line: Groups Do Make a Difference. Arlington, VA: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1989.
Singer, Linda. Settling Disputes: Conflict Resolutions in Business, Families and Legal Systems. (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1994): 95
Solomon, Lawrence. Team development: A training approach. In J.E. Jones & J.W. Pfeiffer (Eds.), the 1977 annual handbook for group facilitators. San Francisco: Jossey- Bass/Pfeiffer, 1977.
Mark a. Thomas. Gurus on Leadership. (London: Thorogood. 2005): 47.
Thomas, Mark. a. Gurus on Leadership. London: Thorogood, 2005.
Ulrich, David, Jack Zenger, J. And Norm Smallwood. “Building Your Leadership Brand.” Leader to Leader (Winter:2000): 40-46.
Paul Hare. Groups, Teams and Social Interaction: Theories and Applications. (Westport, CT: Praeger Press, 1992), 3-4.
Victor Buzzotta and Robert Lefton. “Teams and Teamwork: A Study of Executive Level Teams.” National Productivity Review, 7 (1987-1988): 7-19
Ned Rosen. Teamwork and the Bottom Line: Groups Do Make a Difference. (Arlington, VA: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1989), 3-4.
Pamela King. “What Makes Teamwork Work?” Psychology Today 23 (December 1989).
Linda Singer. Settling Disputes: Conflict Resolutions in Business, Families and Legal Systems. (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1994): 95
Jeanne M. Brett and Stephen B. Goldberg, “Grievance Mediation in the Coal Industry: A Field Experiment” Industrial & Labor Relations Review 37 no. 1 (January 1983).
Richard Beckhard Organizational development. (Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1972).
Anthony Reilly, and John. Jones. Team building. In J.W. Pfeiffer & J.E. Jones (Eds.), the 1974 annual handbook for group facilitators. (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Pfeiffer 1974), 99.
William G. Dyer. Team Building: Issues and Alternatives. (Reading, MA: Addison Wesley, 1977)
Lawrence N. Solomon. Team development: A training approach. In J.E. Jones & J.W. Pfeiffer (Eds.), the 1977 annual handbook for group facilitators.(San Francisco: Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer, 1977).
Elaine Beich. The Pfeiffer Book of Successful Teambuilding: Best of Teambuilding. (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass: 2001), 25.
Beich, op cit.
Jim Intagliata, Norm Smallwood and Dave Ulrich. Leveraging Leadership Competencies to Produce Leadership Brand: Creating Distinctiveness by Focusing on Strategy and Results. Human Resource Planning 23, no. 3. (2000),12.
David Ulrich, Jack Zenger, J. And Norm Smallwood, N. “Building Your Leadership Brand.” Leader to Leader (Winter:2000) 40-46.
Avan R. Jassawalla, and Hemant C. Sa*****tal, Building Collaborative New Product Processes: Why Instituting Teams Is Not Enough. SAM Advanced Management Journal68, no.1 (2003). [electronic version]
Ulrich, Zenger, and Small, Op cit.
Frank J. Flauto. Walking the Talk: The Relationship between Leadership and Communication Competence. Journal of Leadership Studies 86 (1999)
Richard D. Fulwiler. Leadership and Communication Skills for the EHS Professional: Would You Rather Be a Buffalo or a Goose?. Occupational Hazards. 67, no 9. (September 2005.), 33.
Sam Larson and Laura L. Myers. Preparing Students for Early Work Conflicts. Business Communication Quarterly 68, no.3. (2005) 306.
Karen. Jehn, a qualitative analysis of conflict types and dimensions in organizational groups. Administrative Science Quarterl, 42, (1997). 530-558.
Roger Fisher and William Ury Getting to Yes, Negotiating Agreement Without Giving in. (New York: Penguin Books, 1991)
Mark a. Thomas. Gurus on Leadership (London: Thorogood. 2005): 47.
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