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Should You Solve Your Team’s Conflicts, Always?
Build a high-performing team by limiting the time you spend on settling team conflicts
Until a few years back, if you would have asked me if you should always solve your team’s conflicts, my answer would have been a vehement yes! After all, that’s what dedicated leaders are supposed to do—solve their team’s problems. Or, is it?
In the last few years where I have spent time managing large global teams and spoken to many successful leaders, I have realized that as leaders we spend too much time solving our team’s problems. While that is an important part of our jobs, it is much more important to enable and empower your teams to solve their conflicts themselves.
In fact, I can now go on to say that you are not doing your job effectively as a leader if your team is constantly bringing their problems to you to address them, instead of trying to find solutions themselves.
When I look back at my entrepreneurship days, I remember most of my meetings ended with a request for me to exercise my authority to help resolve cross team issues. Many times they sounded like-
The tech team is not prioritizing the marketing team’s projects
The sales team is not happy with the kind of leads the marketing team was sending to them
The marketing wasn’t satisfied with the sales pitches
An old employee wasn’t respecting the a new employee’s seniority in the organization
Someone wasn’t happy with the way their manager was behaving
Someone wanted me to step in their team meetings to stress on the priority of the projects at hand
While I always assume good intent behind these issues, the problem was that every time these challenges cropped up, the teams were bringing the conflicts to me instead of trying to resolve among themselves. “Managing escalations” had become one of the most important (and time consuming) tasks for me on a daily basis.
As leaders and managers we find ourselves in these situations often. What do we do? We go ahead and resolve. Well, at least that is what I did and now I realise that I should have handled many of those situations differently.
The other day I was reading a book, Crucial Conversations, and came across an interesting data point. According to a survey of around 20,000 people, those who mastered crucial conversations were better able to tackle challenges and became opinion leaders in their organizations.
The author, Joseph Grenny, further goes on to say that prior to taking a management role, you can measure your contribution to the organization by counting the number of important problems you solve. But the day you become a manager, the arithmetic changes. Your success is no longer measured by how many problems you solve. Instead, your role is to build a team that solves problems.
And, I can’t agree more!
When do you let your teams solve their problems themselves?
One of your team members, let’s say X comes and says “Can you help me solve a challenge with person Y?” or “Can you ask person Y to do this for me (X)?”
At this point, ask yourself “can you teach your team something by letting them discuss the problem themselves?” If the answer is even a slight yes then do not surrender yourself to the temptation of getting involved. Ask X to reach out to Y and find a solution directly and then collectively inform you about the decision.
If X refuses to do it or feels uncomfortable, you could connect X & Y and ask them to solve the problem together.
When do you step in?
If X and Y (or even if more people are involved) are not able to find a resolution, then get all the parties in a room, instead of trying to solve problems for individuals.
Also, on a side note, continue to encourage X and your team to make this a “shared escalation” next time onwards i.e. discuss the problem beforehand with Y and then reach out to you together, if they are not able to solve it.
This model has worked for me really well because getting all parties involved in the conflict resolution together not only helps build trust in the decision making process but also encourages your team to try to resolve the issues by themselves first.
I did this at Udacity and I saw that my direct reportees eventually resolved most of their issues by themselves. In fact, escalations that were being brought to me had become much lesser in number and much higher in quality.
No leader can deny the importance of building trust for effective team collaboration. Shared escalations not only create a stronger relationship between team members, but also change the dynamics of the manager-reportee relationship within the organization.
Create a High-Performing Team By Holding Them Accountable for Themselves
In one of my previous articles, I had stressed on the importance of committing as a team despite respectful confrontations among team members. Peer accountability sits at the heart of shared escalations. I have seen that in most high-performing teams, it is the team members who manage most of the problems themselves.
Yes, it is a time taking effort to build the culture of peer accountability and shared escalations but eventually you will find yourself saving a lot of time as conflicts get resolved faster.
Do you think this could work for you? I would love to hear from you, if you are already practicing this!