Your three-step guide to managing conflict within your team

Heather Jennings

Small business leaders need strong conflict resolution skills to keep everything running smoothly between employees, but resolving conflict between staff members doesn’t have to be an onerous task. Follow these steps to handle disagreements between your employees.

Identify the issue

Di Armbrust, CEO of OutcomeHR, says managers should first talk to each employee independently to identify the problem.

From here, managers can discuss the issue with both employees, as often some staff members may not know what they are doing to cause a problem.

“It may be they come from different backgrounds or experiences and their view of the world is different, or they talk a ‘different language’ and process information in an altered way to the other person,” Armbrust says.

It was quite detrimental to the overall project and the working team on site, resulting in lots of lost time and slow productivity.

Start mediation

If a problem has been identified and discussed with employees but there is still conflict, some extended mediation might be on the cards.

Nathan Tokker, founder of facilities management company Talio, says an informal mediation session between two of his staff was helpful for each person to see the other’s point of view. 

The conflict was about the amount of time each employee worked equally on site, with one feeling the other was not pulling his weight.

“It was quite detrimental to the overall project and the working team on site, resulting in lots of lost time and slow productivity,” Tokker says.

To clear things up, Tokker organised an informal breakfast on the weekend for everyone to catch up.

At breakfast both sides got to put their opinions forward, Tokker says, revealing that one of the employees was slower on a harder task he had to complete.

“By the end of it we were all smiles and clearly understood each other,” Tokker says. “I don't think I'd do anything differently if something similar happened in the future, as it has lead to more open and productive communication between everyone on site and with myself.”

Keep a record

Managers should keep notes of all the meeting dates between affected staff and what the general complaints were of the parties involved.

Check in on a regular basis that parties are working amicably or if the situation needs to be re-evaluated.

According to Outcome HR’s Armbrust, “At the end of the day, if the staff members still can't get along after going through this process, and it is causing a problem, then one or more may need to be disciplined.”

If possible, managers can consider redistributing duties and responsibilities so the conflicting employees have less to do with each other.

Heather Jennings

Heather Jennings is a Sydney-based journalist who writes about technology, finance and business for publishers including ninemsn, Yahoo7 and Thomson Reuters.

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