Do people need to be ‘friends’ to work well together?
by Michael West
4 September 2017
Recent research around collective intelligence provides a timely reminder of the evidence around conflict in teams.
In our work with many hundreds of teams, it’s astonishing how often destructive interpersonal conflict can be traced back to poor structure and processes. Conversely, good structure and processes bring about psychological safety, synergy and innovation.
Team members bring different skills, styles of working and ambitions to teams. They also bring a variety of profession-specific education and work practices, particularly in multi-disciplinary teams. If the team is structured appropriately and has effective team processes, this task-related diversity will lead to more creative, client-focused solutions.
Often team members complain of ‘personality difficulties’ with team colleagues. At times we all find it challenging to work with people with personality traits different to our own. If we are to build successful teams we need to understand individual differences and find ways of accommodating or combining those differences to create effective working practices.
The majority of interpersonal difficulties that are reported in teams can be traced back to structure and/or process failures. Particularly damaging is the lack of clear, agreed objectives.
Team members are often concerned about comparative power in the team. Teams work best when there is little hierarchy, where all team members feel that their ideas and skills are equally valued and there are no attempts at dominance by one or more team members.
But a particular difficulty arises in teams where there is no clarity of leadership or leadership process. In these situations a power vacuum is created that creates insecurity amongst team members who may feel the need to resolve the uncertainty over leadership by creating an informal hierarchy.
Role clarity and conflict
Conflict is often caused by lack of role clarity between team members. Where it is uncertain who does what and in what ways team members need to interact there is always a potential for conflict which can become personally destructive.
Another common source of conflict is disagreement about how and by when tasks should be completed. Lack of regular communication about task performance will exacerbate both task-related and interpersonal types of conflict.
With the Aston Team Journey, our aim is to create teams that don’t get into trouble – if they do, we offer deeper insight into the sources of conflict through the Aston Team Performance Inventory and Individual Team Mediation.