Conflict & Cooperation in the Workplace

Top performing teams thrive on cooperation and collaboration, but you have to expect conflicts will arise. Some conflict and cooperation will yield creative solutions. Building a trusting team that communicates and tackles disagreements with an eagerness for resolution is key. If you understand the fundamentals of conflict and relationship-building, you can build a sense of trust and togetherness that will result in synergy and, ultimately, a group of employees who love coming to work each day.

Types of Conflict

It’s important to have a framework for understanding conflict in the workplace. Harvard University packaged conflict into three understandable themes: task, relationship and value conflict. While you can’t always compartmentalize conflict, summarizing it into digestible ideas will help you consider the best way to tackle it in the workplace.

Task Conflict

The ruse of task conflict is that you think you can attribute the disagreement to something tangible. On the surface, it may seem like an employee conflict about a task is rooted in the best way to accomplish an assignment or a difference about a specific aspect of it. The reality may be that the issue is the difference between conflict and competition.

Relationship Conflict

The personalities of your staff won’t always mesh. While employees don’t need to be best friends, escalating tension can lead to unresolved conflict that can impede work performance. At times, there may be conflict and cooperation that makes it difficult to discern the real issue. Open discussion can lead to resolution, but it’s important to deal with relationship issues as early as possible.

Value Conflict

Differences in personal values may be the most challenging to resolve. This type of conflict is often connected to beliefs about gender differences, sexuality, religion, diversity and politics. When the issues are tied to stereotypes or the marginalization of protected classes, value conflict may be escalated to a violation of company policies or even the law. It’s important to draw a line between personal beliefs and workplace expectations.

Is Conflict Really Competition?

Healthy competition can empower employees to work harder, but have you ever wondered about the difference between conflict and competition? It’s possible for conflict to arise from the natural tension that occurs between high-performing employees. In most cases, the tension is manifested in passive-aggressive behavior. For example, an employee who struggles to meet sales goals is brusque when interacting with the top salesperson. The best way to counteract this is to pair the two employees on a project or have a direct conversation about the situation.

Build a Positive Environment

If your goal is to create a positive team environment, you will need to be a proactive manager. Here are some ways to deal with conflict and cooperation in the workplace.

Avoid an Accusatory Approach

If you observe interpersonal conflict in action, think before you act. Even if you know who is the primary perpetrator of the problem, it’s important to avoid casting blame. If the issue is behavioral, take the employee aside and have a developmental conversation. Usually, a conflict is two-sided. The Edward Lowe Foundation outlines these ideas for conflict management:

Resolution Room

Establish a room for mediation and problem-solving. Encourage employees to use the room as a neutral site to discuss the conflict. Institute a rule that the resolution room is focused on solutions rather than problems.

How Can We Make It Happen?

Instill a culture of possibility. Encourage employees to have the mindset that anything is possible. This approach is particularly important with conflict and cooperation between team members.

Dig Deeper

When you become aware of conflict in the workplace, investigate the situation before reacting. Remember, there are always two sides to every situation. If you remain an impartial fact-finder, you will demonstrate a sincere investment in both parties involved.

How to Build Cooperation

Transformative Workplace Solutions outlines the three pillars of building a cooperative workforce. If you use these ideals as the mainstay of the training and development process, you can minimize conflict and cooperation will become the norm.

Increase Communication

A lack of communication is at the heart of conflict in the workplace. When you create an environment that instills communication as the norm, conflict is more likely to be minimized. Open communication increases the likelihood of teamwork. As employees work together on projects, they feel compelled to support one another.

Use Collaboration

Working in silos is never the answer. Your goal should be to help the entire workforce understand the need to work together. Even initiatives that are less desirable are more palatable when a team tackles them together.

Build Trust

Support, responsibility and regular feedback will help your team have a sense of trust in one another and in you as a leader. It’s critical for leaders to model expected behavior. A sense of support for group success will infuse trust in the work environment.

Cultivate Multicultural Awareness

Conflict in international relations and diverse groups is common in organizations that don’t convey multiculturalism as an organizational value. The Harvard Business Review emphasizes the importance of institutionalizing efforts to infuse diversity into every facet of the organizational culture. Here are a few initiatives to consider:

Company Values

Employees should be fully aware that diversity is a value of the organization. Review your mission statement and company values to ensure that a commitment to multiculturalism is clearly stated.

Hiring Process

Do your best to hire a diverse staff. Questions about multiculturalism should be incorporated into the screening process to determine the values of the candidate and convey the values of the organization.

Diversity Training

Education about stereotypes, microaggressions, bias and multiculturalism should be provided for employees and included in the on-boarding process.

Imaging and Messaging

A diversity lens should be used to ensure that marketing pieces are comprehensive. Photos, websites and marketing materials should be inclusive and communicate the values of the organization.

Hold Employees Accountable

Employees and especially managers should be held responsible through performance reviews, and bonuses should be awarded for upholding inclusive practices in the workplace.

Encourage Constructive Confrontation

In most cases, you should confront behavior or a situation immediately. Focus on how you felt about the behavior. Use “I” statements like: “I am worried about” or “My concern is.” Be specific about your concern and use questions to show you are invested in improving your relationship and the situation as a whole. Focus on providing constructive feedback that is positive and developmental.

Reward, Recognize and Appreciate Employees

The crux of effectively managing conflict and cooperation is to instill a sense of appreciation for the efforts of employees who meaningfully contribute to the organization. Don’t confine recognition solely to individual achievements. Consider appreciation for the following:

  • New ideas
  • Teamwork
  • Timeliness
  • Relationship-building
  • Creativity and innovation
  • Conflict resolution
  • Engagement

Use creative rewards to reinforce positive behavior. Try things like:

  • Lunch with the boss
  • Office party
  • Time off
  • Extended lunch
  • Money
  • Tickets to a sporting event or concert
  • Certificate of recognition or note
  • Branded merchandise
  • Sweet treat or snack
  • Massage
  • Points toward a bigger prize
  • Gift certificate
  • Gym membership
  • Professional development opportunity
  • Plaque
  • Car wash
  • Recognition video
  • Special parking spot
  • Video featuring the employee
  • Wear Jeans to Work Day

If you instill a sense of fun and warmth into the workplace, you will cultivate an appreciation of and care for teamwork.