Few leaders in the workplace relish the appearance of conflict in their teams. They often report feeling like they are thrust into the position of a parent trying not to favour a particular sibling, because we know taking sides can make conflict very personal.
Yet when your Marketing Manager is about to devour your Finance Manager, where do you start? The good news is that there are some sound principles to help navigate conflict and improve workplace culture for the better.
Two decades ago in Europe a pioneer in family dynamics, Bert Hellinger contrasted family patterns with the dynamics that appear in organisational systems. Of course there is no escaping our own belonging to our birth family, yet we know in a company we can exit or be exited at any time. This creates opportunity, threat and you got it – conflict!
It begins with viewing the company as a human system. As we know with our own bodies (another human system!) we generally display a combination of energy flow and energy blocks as we move through different phases of good and ill health. The same is true within an organisation.
The following questions are keys to navigate conflict, not to end it but to draw out its hidden insights and regain a state of flow towards your desired culture.
- Order: Is any role out of order in the organisation? Just like a family with oldest through to youngest siblings, each function and role has its own rightful place. Sometimes things get out of order. For example the CEO may have taken HR completely under their wing to the point that other functions feel the need to compete for attention. Sometimes key functions do need to dominate for a time, but if you can see a particular person is simply out of their place they may be unknowingly inviting conflict.
- Belonging: has anything occurred to threaten belonging in your company, even perhaps in the distant past? People thrive at work when they feel safe enough to be their authentic selves. Is there anywhere that is no longer safe due to a threat of being isolated or no longer having a role?
- Give and take: unhealthy competition within the ranks may trace back to one role or function giving so much to the whole business that others could never give enough back to feel equal. This can be referred to as a burdened role, where each new starter ends up in conflict.
- Clear Purpose. Conflict often occurs in the “how” things are done, rather than up in the “why” we are here. Have people lost touch with why the company was founded and the bigger picture that unites all functions and roles?
As you can see we have avoided talking about personalities altogether, indeed there has been no mention of psychometrics of any form! In making it about the people, or even worse, one person, we lose all opportunity to shift a workplace culture towards its ultimate power to unite its people. Rather than coming in with the answers, any conflict is ultimately the opportunity to listen and ask yourself “if I stand long enough in the shoes of those in the middle of this conflict, is there a chance I could feel conflicted too?” If so, what hidden insight is this conflict attempting to uncover to shift your culture from where you are today towards a clearer, brighter future?
Written by Vanessa Fudge
Founder of Leading Well
Leading Well is a boutique leadership consulting and coaching firm which recognises that it is no longer enough to improve surface-level leadership skills without ensuring that the foundations on which they are introduced are as strong and healthy as possible. We offer the highest standards in leadership development, cultural and strategic facilitation and wellness mentoring programme design.
To find out more about how Leading Well can help you, please contact us.