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Team Conflict? Don’t Rush to Personalities

© 2017

All too often, poor relationships on teams are attributed to “personality conflicts.” Otherwise good managers throw up their frustrated hands in defeat. While personalities at work can fracture work relationships, it’s not where to start – nor end – the conversation. Why? First, it’s not predictive. We have only to draw on our own experiences and countless adages to see some dissimilar personalities working well together and some similar personalities working at odds, and vice versa. Second, if personality issues are not the root cause, we spend a great deal of energy healing only a symptom or, worse yet, a malady that doesn’t exist at all. Finally, by stepping back and looking more clinically at the situation, we have an opportunity to breathe life into the whole system or team.

Thanks to Richard Beckhard, one of the founders of the field of organization development, we have a framework to explore team context: Goals, Roles, Processes, and (interpersonal) Relationships (GRPR or GRPI - “grippy”). These are sequential. Any glitch in one category will have a downstream affect. For example, if roles are unclear, both processes and relationships will be muddled.

Before diving into the framework, make sure you are in a healthy frame of mind. It can be difficult to assess the clarity of goals, roles, processes, and relationships on your team. The easy reason is that we have ego involved in what we created or contributed to. Another reason is your own clarity makes it difficult to see where others are unclear. Or perhaps you’ve lived it long enough that it’s hard to lift your eyes above the fog. Whatever your reasons, take the time and make the effort to get your mind in line from the get-go. Check out this post for tips to square away your mindset.

Below are some questions to consider in each category. Go through them swiftly on your own, then turn to others both on and off the team. Ask those with something to gain or lose and those with nothing at stake. You are seeking to come away with actionable ways to finetune the team, increase effectiveness, and make it a more engaging workgroup.

Goals: What are the critical few goals the team is accountable for? (keep it to fewer than 5.) Are they clearly written? How do you know they are clear? Are team members truly committed to them? Do you discuss them as a team and in 1:1 meetings? Do people know how team goals connect upward to company goals and cascade to individual goals? Are you rewarding progress toward goals? Are there any forces that punish or thwart team goals? Are there any rewarding or energizing forces that oppose team goals?

Roles: Are team roles well defined? How do you know people understand the definitions? Do people know what they should not be doing as well as what they should be doing? If more than one person has the same role, are the boundaries clear? Are there gaps between roles? Do people know who to go to for what? Do team members honor roles or work around them? If they workaround roles, why?

Processes: How does the team receive work? What role takes in each input? How is work handled or processed once received? Are priorities established that align with goals? Is there agreement/understanding on how decisions will be made? Do processes line up seamlessly with no cracks to fall through? What communication is needed? Are there measures in place? Are the measures sensible for gauging team performance without burdening it? Who is the work handed off to when it leaves the team? Are we meeting their needs? How do you know?

Relationships: If team members are at odds with each other, what processes are involved? What roles are involved? In what ways might processes pit people against each other? Do the measures of success in some roles come at the expense of other roles? Does each team member understand the impact of their work and how it is accomplished on others? Does each team member understand the parameters of others’ work? How can we look at the shared team goals to achieve more collaborative processes and interdependent roles? How do our team’s relationships contribute to our reputation?

Monitor with care the team’s comfort level and adoption of changes, closely at first then more loosely. Ensure the team has an active voice in commitments to each other, like asking good questions and facilitating each other’s success. Cultivate an honest and respectful team culture.

If the GRPR framework has been well executed and you determine there truly is a personality issue, work with an expert in assessments and team dynamics to address the situation.

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