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Seven ways to protect your team from conflicts

Conflicts within a team have repercussions not only for its members’ well-being, but also for the achievement of work objectives, resulting in loss of efficiency, lack of collaboration, absenteeism, damage to the team’s reputation, etc.
That’s why it’s important that you, as a manager, do your utmost to prevent conflicts and to handle them swiftly and effectively when they do arise. Here are seven tips to help you do so: 

Step in

It’s normal for conflicts to arise within a team. They result from human interactions and are part of working life. They can lead to new ideas and initiatives, but they can also be very destructive. As a manager, you shouldn’t ignore them but should instead step in. 

  • Look out for potential sources of conflict and intervene as quickly as possible.
  • Make your team aware that you’re there for them. They should know that they can come and talk to you whenever they need to. 
  • Identify the factors that systematically trigger conflict and tackle them at their source. The sources of conflict within teams that are frequently mentioned in the Ombud’s office are a lack of clarity about responsibilities, roles and priorities and poorly defined interfaces between colleagues or between services. 
  • Draw up a procedure that can systematically be followed when a conflict arises. This might include talking to each of the parties within a certain time frame, bringing all the parties concerned around the same table, etc.

Make respect your watchword

 Make it clear how you expect your team to behave and what sort of conduct is considered unacceptable. The CERN Code of Conduct is an extremely useful tool that you can draw on. Of course, you must also set an example in order to maintain your credibility.

Be fair

Beware of favouritism and watch out for unconscious bias*) . Don’t listen to rumours but base your judgements on what you see. Give newcomers the benefit of the doubt and pay no heed to how others might have labelled them. Make up your own mind about each new team member and bear in mind that diversity in all its forms is one of your team’s greatest assets.

Favour collaboration over competition

A team’s objectives are collective, and only by pooling their skills and efforts will they achieve them. Far from damaging the team, differences of style in communicating, solving problems and implementing solutions are an asset. Lastly, highlight the collective aspect when evaluating performance. 

Let your team help you 

Organise regular meetings to discuss working methods, the distribution of tasks and the procedures in place. Take inspiration from the feedback you receive. Your team members are best placed to flag any stumbling blocks and any problems that may be impinging on the team’s functioning. 
Welcome and support newcomers and encourage mentoring to ensure that knowledge and experience are passed on. 

Encourage communication and informal get-togethers 

Make sure that communication is fluid in your team. Regular, open exchanges between peers are very important to avoid expectations getting out of step, which can create frustration. Informal get-togethers are far from a waste of time, because they allow your team members to get to know each other better, discover common interests and bond outside the workplace. 

Turn to a third party if difficulties arise 

Despite all your efforts to prevent and manage conflicts within your team, you may find that some situations are too complex to handle or that you feel unable to cope with a particular conflict. In such cases, an outside person may be better placed to try to get to the bottom of the issue. According to the nature of the difficulties, various people are available to help, including human resources advisers, the Medical Service, if appropriate, and the Ombud. 

Lastly, consider suggesting that the members of your team who are in conflict with each other try mediation  by the Ombud. Mediation must be voluntary and cannot be imposed by you, but it is an extremely effective informal conflict-resolution tool. 

As a manager, you have a central role to play in preventing and managing conflicts in your team. The simple principles set out in this article can help foster the environment that your team needs to fully achieve their objectives. If you feel out of your depth with a conflict, don’t wait – contact the Ombud to talk about it. 

 Laure Esteveny

*) Discover your unconscious biases at https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html 

I want to hear from you – feel free to email ombud@cern.ch with any feedback or suggestions for topics you’d like me to address. 
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