Inter-team disputes between colleagues are part and parcel of daily life in the office – virtual or physical. They can arise for a myriad of reasons from a difference in attitude towards goals, priorities, communication styles or personalities amongst team members but when they go unchecked, they can easily escalate into a toxic environment for everyone.
Whilst diversity of thought and approach within teams is crucial to business success, it takes a skilled manager to harness the benefits and to address the challenges. Underlying discord in teams presents a serious business risk which can not only have a negative impact on team motivation, productivity and output but can go even further by adversely impacting employee retention and ultimately, your corporate reputation.
What is coaching?
Coaching is a highly effective tool that can be harnessed by organisations to support individual team members with personal and professional development and wellbeing in a highly bespoke manner. Coaching is a skilled and personalised process which can help to shift an individual’s self-awareness and evoke some form of transformation, regardless of how small or large – from a stuck thought pattern such as “I’m no good at presentations” to bigger scale behavioural transformation such as “I want a Chief Executive role in the next three years”.
One-to-one coaching tends to be the preserve of middle to senior management but it can offer huge benefits to employees at all levels. As team members develop their own self-awareness, so too a myriad of benefits follow swiftly behind. Understanding personal values and how our work fits into the bigger picture can result in a highly motivated team operating in a purposeful way; coaching can support people to look at any given situation through a range of different perspectives. This in turn fosters more patience, understanding and appreciation for colleagues who have had different life experiences and wear different lenses. The ability to appreciate different perspectives facilitates an environment of collaboration, leaning into different team members’ strengths for the wider benefit of the team.
Conflict at work
Inter-team disputes at work are an entirely normal and healthy part of life but when brushed under the proverbial carpet, they can fester and cause a bad smell that wafts and lingers.
Take for example the woman who worked in a senior position at a part-time level after returning from maternity leave. She wasn’t able to attend in-person meetings on the days she had off and the meeting minutes were not accurately recorded which meant that she missed out on important updates and had to spend extra time playing catch-up. She didn’t want to draw attention to the fact that she couldn’t attend the meetings because of her part-time work so she didn’t speak up. Meanwhile, her teammates were showing their frustration with eye-rolling and whispers when she wasn’t up to speed and repeatedly asked to be updated. The problem escalated: the woman began to lose confidence in her own abilities while her colleagues’ frustrations continued to grow and the division in the team intensified on a weekly basis, impacting morale and eventually productivity.
Whilst of course we can have sympathy for the woman AND her colleagues for keeping their feelings to themselves in order not to ‘rock the boat’, imagine how quickly and easily this inter-team conflict could have been resolved if more effective and respectful communication and different perspectives had been brought into play?
Diversity in the workplace is not only a necessity but a blessing for businesses and results in a breadth of talent, experience, ideas and innovation but differences of opinion and approach must be managed carefully in order to nurture harmony and avoid divide.
Coaching for conflict resolution
Coaching can support teams to appreciate different perspectives and communicate more effectively which can lead to enhanced team consensus, morale and productivity. For example, coaching around personal values was a helpful first step for the woman in our example. In this case, we identified values around family, balance, professionalism and trustworthiness. Coaching individuals to acknowledge their personal values often brings enlightenment and a refreshed commitment to live purposefully in alignment with them. This in turn leads to increased self-confidence and motivation to create boundaries in order to honour the values more effectively. Creating boundaries in this example resulted in requesting more accurate meeting notes which reduced the need to play catch-up when she was back in the office. It also resulted in a conversation with her line manager and colleagues about what they needed from her and how that could best be managed when she was away from the office.
Coaching her colleagues on different perspectives led to an understanding that there is more than one lens through which to look at part-time work. One particular breakthrough in this example was the colleague who, as a result of perspectives coaching, voiced that they too wanted to work a part-time week but didn’t feel eligible since they were not a parent. They recognised that feelings of resentment were present which they were able to address and process. They subsequently put a request through to work a four-day week which was approved.
When managed appropriately, disagreements in the workplace can have many positive outcomes. Voicing disagreements gives teams the opportunity to address difficult situations and share different perspectives. Addressing and sitting with conflict is often challenging but it’s an important skill for high-performing teams and can result in even more fresh thinking and innovation. For example, if you are rolling out a new campaign for your company and you want to piggyback off Christmas and your colleague thinks it’s better to wait until January, together you will have to look at the pros and cons of both ideas and evaluate which is the most effective approach to meet your team goals. A well-coached team will be able to raise difficult conversations and communicate effectively and respectfully with their colleagues, creating a safe space to set boundaries and share feedback. This forges strong and cohesive team relations, creating a happier workforce.
Aisling was recently Head of Communications at a British startup called Rest Less which operates in the age inclusivity and longevity space. Inspired by her time at Rest Less and with a passion for health and wellbeing, lifelong learning and an ambition to live a healthy life well into her 100s, Aisling retrained as a coach in 2023. Aisling’s life purpose is to shine a light on other people’s power and she is passionate about helping individuals inside and out of the workforce to lead a fulfilled and purposeful life.