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Navigating Task Conflict as You Lead the Way

"Sticks in a bundle are unbreakable."
Kenyan Proverb

What is it? How can you Manage It?

Conflict is a part of life. Conflict simply means that disagreement exists. There are different types of conflict, some less optimal than others. This article considers the notion of task conflict within an organization.

When you actually have a moderate amount of task conflict, then decision making and performance outcomes may improve in your teams and in your organization. Unhealthy levels of conflict can lead to a variety of dysfunctions, which no one wants. As with many things in life, it’s about achieving a healthy balance.

On the surface, task conflict is a disagreement that occurs over doing a job, or task. However, this can have more complexity than first meets the eye. This can be due to competing resources and power struggles. Task based conflicts occur in situations when team members are interdependent to finish a task. At a positive level, task conflict can often encourage the exchange of ideas and improve decisions, and subsequently the bottom line. When not well-managed, task conflict can be fairly disruptive to final outcomes. Task conflict can become harmful when it develops into relationship conflict. Relationship conflict is personal in nature and it overwhelms the task at hand. Relationship conflict will take away attention and energy from the job and the team, which will impinge constructive results (Gueneter et al., 2016).

Finding the right amount of task conflict is key. If there is no conflict at all, there is really no pressure or motivation to achieve. Well managed conflict can signal progress towards change. If there is trust involved, healthy and open disagreement can take place (Lencioni, 2012). This often will help teams become comfortable thinking out loud, and many times create an environment conducive to coming up with creative thinking and new ideas. Too much conflict can overwhelm and destabilize things, which results in little to no performance or positive outcomes. Moderate amounts of conflict can be an excellent tool to achieve positive outcomes within your organization (Amazon, 1996; Jehn & Mannix, 2001).

Woodland Strategies provides strategic planning and marketing strategy consulting services to a variety of organizations. We assist leaders and their teams as they navigate change. At Woodland Strategies, we take steps to offset conflict before it becomes a distraction or a dysfunction for the group.

At Woodland Strategies, we establish guiding principles, or ground rules, at our first meeting. This helps to establish trust and open communication amongst the members of the team. This way boundary parameters are predefined before the temperature goes up. It also leads to increased accountability to the team.

Our strategy is to keep communication moving forward to keep the lines open. We always want and strive for members to feel included and to be heard.

We also make sure that individuals are informed as to their own roles and responsibilities to their team to get the job done. No one ever wants to be blindsided. These simple and preventative measures are well-supported in longstanding literature and research (Guenter et al., 2016).

The key is to offset escalation by keeping things focused on the topic, rather than the person. It is important to have this safety check. Task conflict does not need to transfer into relationship conflict (Guenter et al., 2016; Romer, Rispens, Giebels & Euwema, 2012).

When you attend to these basic steps, you can help to achieve goals and subsequently adopt more purposeful leadership, thereby generating positive outcomes for all of your key stakeholders.

If you would like to learn more about navigating conflict in your own organization or are looking for assistance with achieving your organizational goals, please contact Woodland Strategies in Minneapolis, MN for additional information and support.

Amason, A. C. (1996). Distinguishing the effects of functional and dysfunctional conflict on strategic decision making: Resolving a paradox for top management teams. Academy of Management Journal, 39, 123–148. Guenter, H., van Emmerik, H., Schreurs, B., Kuypers, T. van Iterson, A., and Notelaers G. (September 14, 2016). When task conflict becomes personal: The impact of perceived team performance. Small Group Research, 47 (5) 569 - 604. Jehn K. A., Mannix, E.A. (2001). The dynamic nature of conflict: A longitudinal study of intragroup conflict and group performance. Academy of Management Journal, 44, 238 – 251. Lencioni, P. (2012). The Advantage. Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business. Hoboken, NY: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Romer, M., Rispens, S., Giebels, E. Euwema, M. (June 24, 2012). A helping hand? The moderating role of leaders' conflict management behavior on the conflict–stress relationship of employees. Negotiation Journal, 28, (3) 253 – 277.

This article or any other promotional material(s) from Woodland Strategies, Inc. is in no way intended to be a comprehensive plan.

Please note all markets, circumstances, and results vary. Any strategic plan or marketing initiatives must follow all State and Federal laws and regulations, accordingly.

Please contact us directly for a complete assessment and plan for your individual organizational needs.

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