4 common types of team conflict and how to resolve them

Conflict in the workplace is inevitable, and it’s even necessary at times. As uncomfortable as a workplace conflict can be, leaving it in unaddressed can be equally as destructive. For instance, if a team member isn’t pulling their weight by completing their tasks on time, letting it slide by staying quiet will negatively affect the morale of the whole team.

Yet, getting heated and engaging in shouting matches won’t do anything to better the situation, either.

That’s why team leaders need to master tactful conflict resolution strategies that address the issue, consider everyone’s viewpoint, and come to a compromise everyone can agree on. Proper conflict management is a must for productive teamwork and a positive work environment.

The proof?

58% of US workers have quit their jobs (or are considering it) due to disruptive workplace politics, and 38% want to leave because of a hectic workplace culture. So if your office is filled with personality clashes and unresolved conflicts, your retention rates will see a noticeable tip, negatively impacting your entire organization.

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Conversely, teams that exhibited constructive conflicts with proper resolutions told a different story. 76% of workers reported witnessing a conflict led to something positive, 33% improved their working relationships, and 29% found a better solution to their conflict.

That’s a testament to the power of strong conflict resolution skills, so stick around to learn more about the common causes of team conflict and how to resolve them.

Why do team conflicts happen?

Conflicts can arise at work for a wide variety of reasons, including disagreements over common goals, work styles, and team performance (i.e., some team members not completing an equal share of work). Personality conflicts are also common occurrences, as 49% of workplace conflicts occur due to personality and ego clashes. Then there are also conflicts due to stress, excessive workloads, personal attacks, absences, and more.

Whatever the source of conflict, all that matters is coming to a mutual understanding that leads to positive outcomes.

Of course, that’s easier said than done, especially when conflicts get out of hand.

As the team leader, the onus lies on you to address these disputes head-on ASAP so that your team can return to normal. The longer you let a conflict go before resolving it, the more resentment and negativity will build up behind the scenes. Unresolved conflicts also cause employees to actively avoid meetings, not show up to work, and even fall ill due to stress.

That’ll wreak havoc on your team’s productivity & efficiency, not to mention your employee retention rates and reputation. It’s no secret that employees don’t want to work in conflict-heavy work environments, and it won’t take long for the word to get out about your organization.

However, with proper mediation, smart decision-making, and a high level of emotional intelligence, you’ll be able to resolve any type of team conflict that arises.

First, let’s take a more detailed look at the most common types of conflicts that arise in the workplace.

Types of team conflict

Task conflicts

These conflicts arise when team members rely on one another to complete specific tasks. The most common type of task conflict is when one team member fails to complete their share of the work, placing undue strain on everyone else.

Task conflicts can also arise due to differences surrounding how to complete them. For instance, some team members may skip a few steps or take shortcuts to get their tasks done, negatively affecting the quality of the entire project.

These conflicts can be a bit tricky to spot if your team doesn’t openly communicate with you.

Accordingly, you should do your best to check in with your team regularly. Beyond that, meet with everyone privately in one-on-one sessions, as that’ll make it easier for them to let you know if someone isn’t doing their fair share.

Asking for feedback from the entire team isn’t the best strategy, as your employees are less likely to be honest if a team member isn’t completing their tasks. They probably don’t want to start a personal conflict on the side by telling on them in front of everyone.

Another way to make it easy for your team to inform you about task conflicts is to start an employee suggestion box. That will enable your team to anonymously tell you about any disputes that are taking place behind the scenes.

Work style conflicts

Conflicts can also pop up when two team members have different ways of completing their tasks.

A common example is when one team member requires no guidance, works fast, and completes everything on time — while their partner needs help every step of the way and turns everything in late. That can cause stress for both parties, as the productive employee feels held back by their partner, while the inefficient employee may feel like they’re being underappreciated or attacked.

These conflicts can also happen when team members prefer to work at different times, which can make it difficult to get anything done.

As the team leader, it’s your job to find common ground (if there is any) to help find a resolution. In some cases, it may be best to split up and rearrange teams instead of forcing two clashing personality types to get along.

You can also experiment with new ways for your teams to collaborate. Considering the example before with the hyperefficient employee and the more calculated one, changing the way you divide the work may resolve the conflict.

If the efficient employee is better at knocking out quick, repetitive tasks — assign all that work to them. Conversely, you can give the more calculated employee all the tasks that require more planning and research.

Leadership conflicts

Yes, there will be times when your team has a problem with your leadership style. Every leader is different, as there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to leadership. Yet, that doesn’t mean that your employees won’t clash with your point of view from time to time. Whenever that happens, you need to be prepared to adjust your leadership style to suit the needs of your team better.

How can you do that?

Let’s say that you’re the type of manager that isn’t shy about showing your appreciation for your team’s hard work. While most employees will appreciate this, others will feel embarrassed by being called out in front of everyone. For these team members, choosing to praise them privately may work better, or they may prefer a gift card or a free meal for their efforts instead.

Also, some employees thrive on receiving direction and ground rules, while others prefer to march to the beat of their own drum.

The best thing you can do as a manager is adapt to the needs of your team.

Smothering a free bird with too many instructions and guidance won’t win you any favors, nor will neglecting to provide guidance to an employee that needs it to succeed. As such, you need to consider the individual needs of each employee when determining your leadership style.

Personality conflicts

As stated before, ego and personality clashes are extremely common in the workplace. Everyone has different hard wiring when it comes to how they behave, and it’s inevitable that you won’t like everyone you work with.

However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t learn to get along and work together as a team.

It’s natural for some personality conflicts to arise, even in the healthiest workplaces. You don’t choose your coworkers, and since you’re forced to spend so much time with them each week, it’s normal for them to get on your nerves occasionally.

How should you approach personality clashes?

While these conflicts can certainly get heated at times, it’s your job as the manager to help your employees understand each other’s differences. No two people are exactly alike, and our differences make us unique and help round out the talents of others.

While an outspoken employee that doesn’t shy away from conflict may not get along with a more reserved coworker, they each have talents that complement one another. The outspoken team member will excel at addressing customer issues, while the reserved coworker is better suited for handling things behind the scenes.

As long as you can frame personality differences in a complementary way, your team will have an easier time getting past them.

Essential conflict resolution skills

Since you know more about the types of team conflict you’ll likely run into, it’s time to learn some effective conflict management strategies. As a manager, one of the best skills you can have is the ability to resolve even the most heated workplace conflict peacefully (it’s definitely something you want to mention on your resume).

Here’s a look at the top resolution skills that’ll help you resolve future conflicts.

Practice active listening

Being able to actively listen to each team member’s point of view is one of the most crucial aspects of conflict resolution. Nobody will feel satisfied if they tell you what happened, only for it to fall on deaf ears. Workplace conflicts are serious issues, and you need to let everyone state their peace before moving toward a solution.

Give both parties an equal chance to get everything out, and do your best not to interrupt or dismiss what they have to say. A huge aspect of resolving conflicts is making sure both parties are heard, which will make it far easier to reach a reasonable solution later on.

Take a proactive approach

Regarding workplace conflicts, it’s best to nip them in the bud as soon as you can. The longer you let conflicts linger, the more resentment and negativity will accumulate in your team.

If you act fast, you will return working conditions to normal (which the rest of your team will greatly appreciate) and show that you take conflict seriously and won’t tolerate dissent, bullying, or other types of destructive behavior.

Being proactive also goes a long way toward building trust with your team. If they know you’ll immediately step in to resolve conflicts, they’ll have an easier time approaching you whenever things go wrong.

Don’t make assumptions

A surefire way to upset your staff is to make assumptions when attempting to resolve conflicts. Understand that you don’t truly know what happened and need to gather more information before being conclusive.

You never know when you may have the story wrong, which is why making assumptions is a no-no.

Come to a resolution

Once you’ve heard all the facts, it’s time to come to a resolution that everyone can agree upon, which isn’t always easy, but is definitely worth it.

First, focus on the things that everyone can agree on, as finding some common ground will help move toward a solution. After that, do your best to see the conflict from everyone’s viewpoint, but also be realistic about what has to happen for a compromise to take place.

Wrapping up: Common types of team conflicts

No workplace is 100% conflict-free, which is why you need to know how to resolve conflicts whenever they arise effectively. Ignoring the issue is never the right solution, so be proactive whenever you suspect your team is experiencing a conflict.

Actively listening, avoiding assumptions, and coming to a compromise everyone can agree on is the best way to handle conflicts in any organization.