Pre-emptive conflict management is about trying to reduce conflict or control the way that conflict is handled before it actually occurs.
If you can minimise the causes of conflict and ensure that your team members engage in positive conflict management behaviours when conflicts arise, you can reduce the frequency and intensity of team conflicts.
Reduce the causes of conflict
By taking steps to minimise some of the common causes of conflict, you can prevent or at least minimise the chances of conflict occurring where it could have been avoided.
- Different behavioural styles (work styles) - People differ in the way they approach people and problems, and this can be a cause of conflict. Educate your team about the different behavioural styles and explain that everyone has a different way of working. Team members need to understand their own style and learn how to accept conflicting styles.
- Unclear roles and responsibilities - If team members aren't clear on their roles and responsibilities it can cause confusion and territorial conflicts. Ensure that everyone in your team has a position description and that their roles and responsibilities are clearly defined. If a team member is required to step outside their role (and potentially on someone else’s toes), be very clear about their responsibilities and level of authority.
- Unclear standards and expectations - When standards and expectations are unclear, it leads to misunderstandings. Team members need to know and understand the standards and expectations; they should not have to guess.
- Conflicting priorities - When team members depend on each other to get work done, this can create conflict. Encourage your team to be respectful of each other’s time, communicate and plan ahead; don’t just assume that someone will be available to do the work when you need it done.
- Access to resources - Where team members have to share resources this can cause conflict if people can't get access to what they need, when they need it. Try to ensure each team member has what they need to do their job. If they need to share resources, encourage them to agree on a plan of action. And if resources aren't allocated evenly amongst team members, make sure you explain the reasons for your decisions - perceived unfairness can create resentment and conflict amongst team members.
Establish ground rules for handling conflict
Ground rules (or team norms) are a set of guidelines that spell out how team members are expected to behave. The purpose of having ground rules around conflict management is not to prevent conflict but to encourage team members to resolve conflicts is a positive and constructive manner should they arise.
The more your team can resolve their own conflicts constructively, the less chance there is that conflict will escalate and require you to get involved.
When setting ground rules, you might consider:
- Conflict styles - Emphasising collaboration over competition.
- Managing difficult situations - Instating time outs/cool off periods if things get heated. Parking issues if no progress is being made and returning to them later.
- Respectful communication - Ensuring team members always communicate in a respectful manner.