How to Build High Performing Teams

by Dr Andrzej Grossman


Since the COVID-19 pandemic, it is common for teams to operate in a hybrid environment.

Remote hiring may mean some teams and individuals never, or rarely, meet face-to-face.

Virtual meetings, from quick catch-ups to board-level discussions are now the norm.

Issues around employee engagement, trust, inclusion and well-being have become more acute for teams who are not consistently present in an office.

Great teamwork inevitably places high demands on working relationships. What’s more, when looking to build such, it is important to not think too idealistically, but focus on immediate and pragmatic requirements and how to accommodate them.

For example, team diversity is encouraged to encompass complementary skills to discourage groupthink and increase creativity and productivity. However, diversity alone does not mean that all members of the team will contribute equally. Also, diversity in itself does not guarantee a team will avoid slipping into groupthink or be free of conflict avoidance.

More is needed.

Ultimately, to do great teamwork is to do good conflict.

This means recognising that while the unit of performance is the team, everyone in it, including the leader, needs communication and process skills to engage in conflict effectively.

These so-called “soft skills” play a critical role in team performance and in determining people’s potential for training and openness to learning.

Soft skills, however, are not soft.

There is nothing soft about earning the respect and trust of the team you lead or work with. There is nothing soft about understanding, recognising and navigating human motivations, and having the ability to empathise. There is nothing soft about having to maintain relationships and manage conflicts. And there is nothing soft about developing resilience to challenges and decision-making.

The ever-growing hybrid working environment has made us even more aware that teams need to operate in a way that places greater emphasis on soft skills if they are to operate at a high level.

This guide highlights the main challenges of team collaboration and gives some tips on addressing them. At the end, it asks some questions so that you can gauge how you and your team engage in conflict, and identify any areas for potential improvement.

What we Will Cover

  1. Types of Conflict
  2. What High Performance Is and Is Not About
  3. Teams and ‘Best Friends’
  4. Teams and Trust: Theory and Practice
  5. Groupthink: The Enemy Within
  6. Conflict Avoidance: Fright Rather than Fight
  7. Direct and Indirect Communicators
  8. Four Communication Styles
  9. Email and Conflict
  10. For Organisations and Leaders
  11. Mediation as Part of the Team and Organisational Approach
  12. How Good are You at Conflict?


1. Types of Conflict

Throughout this article, we mention task, process and relationship conflict. These are broadly the three types of conflict you can encounter at work.

Task Conflict – The ‘What’

This involves disagreements about the content and/or outcomes of the task or job to be done.

Task conflict can positively impact team performance because it requires an increased understanding of the task and encourages the evaluation of ideas from different people. It can improve problem-solving and help forge the team.

Process Conflict – The ‘How’

Conflicts of this type can be both constructive and destructive. It can be valuable because it helps to clarify each team member’s role and the unique perspective or skill they bring.

At other times, particularly when people feel their unique value is not appreciated, it might turn into a tug-of-war pivoting on the evaluation of individual contributions. Or where there is disagreement about who is in charge or who makes the final decision, status becomes the issue.

Relationship Conflict – The ‘Who’

Relationship conflicts arise from interpersonal issues and can also involve fundamental differences in identities and values.

They can arise from task and process conflicts if people are unable to have difficult conversations or are not prepared to listen to others’ ideas and viewpoints or reach some level of consensus.

When a task and/or process conflict turns into a relationship conflict, it usually undermines performance and escalates negative emotions which, in turn, reduces cooperation and prevents getting the job done.

Invariably, it leads to negative outcomes and needs to be managed and resolved.

It is worth having this framework in mind when thinking about conflict as you look to create high performance in your organisation.

2. What High Performance Is and Is Not About

Here are some common misconceptions as well as good practice CEDR has observed from working with organisations to create high-performing teams. 

Continuous harmony does not make a great team. Conflict is necessary to generate ideas and change, and should not be seen as a mark of failure. Pretending to agree with everyone else for the sake of appearances does not help the team. Relationships are important, so is getting the job done.

The tension between achieving the outcome and sustaining relationships is always present and can lead to a pendulum effect which is accompanied by unexpected rather than necessary conflict.

Great teamwork is about joint problem-solving which means understanding the problem and coming up with options before selecting and turning them into action. This process is not linear and often comes across a low point between defining the problem and agreeing on a solution.

The team needs to have in place a mechanism which can deal with conflicts it cannot deal with internally. Asking for help is not a sign you have failed as a team as often an outside perspective can help.

The team has to make time to regularly discuss how work is done and not at crisis points. Those discussions focus on communication, team dynamics, commitment and accountability issues, rather than on timelines and deliverables.

It does not all depend on the leader.


The hands-on work of the leader is important but the most significant thing they can do is to create conditions that enable team members to manage themselves as much as possible. Coaching, mentoring, reviews and feedback are important. Leaders still need to influence and sometimes direct.

Great teamwork does not mean that creativity only happens when all team members are working together in a room or virtually. Working together can help widen understanding and give insights to prompt ideas an individual may not have thought of on their own. Equally, the team can benefit from creative diversity from individual disruptive thinking to challenge groupthink (see later); so, the ‘lone genius’ is still very much allowed and should be encouraged.

3. Teams and ‘Best Friends’

Gallup’s Q12 employee engagement survey is based on many years of behavioural economic research involving millions of employees. Through this research Gallup identified 12 employee needs that link to key business outcomes and best predict employee and team performance.

Included in the survey, is the statement “I have a best friend at work.”

In responding to this statement, many employees do not find difficulty with the word “friend” as they have many friends at work. Instead, they stumble on the word “best,” because they feel the term implies exclusivity, and they have trouble identifying one “best friend” among their team.

Gallup discovered the importance of this statement in identifying the most productive teams. Because some employees had difficulty with the word “best,” Gallup went back to those teams and changed the word to “close” or “good,” or excluded the word “best” entirely. When this was done, however, the item lost its power to differentiate highly productive teams from less productive ones. This suggested that the use of the word “best” distinguishes a dynamic of great teams.

It also points to the importance of psychological safety in the team, meaning that what anyone in the team says or does won’t be used against them, and that teamwork begins by building trust.

4. Teams and Trust: Theory and Practice

When trust is present, team members can feel more comfortable in being vulnerable and honest with each other. They can express themselves without fear of reprisal, focus their energies on what they have to do rather than on defending themselves and be more comfortable with engaging in healthy conflict around issues and ideas.

If team members feel they have contributed to the discussion and have been heard, even if they passionately disagree with others, they are more likely to buy into an idea. For leaders, it means they have to accept that at times they will be a learner rather than an expert, openness to which requires being willing to show a degree of vulnerability.

Team members are also more likely to be willing to reveal what they think about each other and give each other feedback with differences brought into the open and acknowledged, even if they cannot always be resolved.

So, acceptance of conflict and diversity enables team members to commit to something. That means people leave meetings with clarity around what they need to achieve and don’t have any unresolved issues that would prevent them from being fully engaged. Everyone is certain and clear of what and how something needs to be done.

Commitment leads to team members holding each other accountable on a peer-to-peer basis. Because they have committed to a decision, have had healthy conflict and they trust each other, they will hold each other accountable for what is necessary for the team as a whole.

Attention to results comes from accountability because team members are able to focus on the team’s collective results rather than focusing on their own egos, status, departments or budgets.

Allowing Mistakes

Trust also has to translate into allowing mistakes. That is a risk, especially for leaders.

While it is easy to say “we all make mistakes”, they are almost always associated with negative emotions and negative language which do nothing to lower our level of anxiety around them. In turn, it makes it hard to talk openly about mistakes or flag issues when things start to go wrong.

Also, it does not help that process mistakes and outcome mistakes are different and are often confused. Process mistakes are where a lack of information or poor decision-making has led to an unwanted outcome. Some outcome mistakes are rational to the extent that the thinking was right but the outcome was not. Other outcome mistakes are irrational in that they could have been avoided if the thinking on process was right.

So, trust here means holding back from pointing the finger of blame and accepting that mistakes will happen however hard your colleagues have tried to avoid them. If you look to blame someone, it will divert attention from the process of finding a practical resolution and may result in team members concealing other issues or becoming overly cautious. In addition, managing a mistake as a witch-hunt loses the opportunity to learn.

Building Trust

If a well-managed mistake is an indicator of trust, it is also a way to build trust.

A further way to build trust is for the team to set out clear expectations or rules regarding conduct which make will make it easier to address any trust concerns should they occur. These might include:

  • Constructive confrontation – no finger pointing
  • Don’t shoot the messenger – tell others quickly about changes or problems that arise
  • Discussion – nothing is off limits
  • Analysis not assumptions – facts are friendly
  • Confidentiality – personal disclosures must remain within the team
  • Step forward, step back – everyone steps up to lead when their particular expertise or talent is needed.

Trust and psychological safety are two sides of the same coin. In nurturing psychological safety for the team:

  • Remind yourself you are not infallible
  • Model curiosity
  • Frame everything you do as a learning problem, not as an implementation one.


5. Groupthink: The Enemy Within

If a team forgets that high performance is about results and not about feeling good all the time, then groupthink poses a major threat to collaboration.

In groupthink, teams become overly comfortable with their own correctness and unity rather than actively testing ideas and assumptions.

For example, if you have a group of five people and two of them are wrong about something, you only need doubt in the mind of one other person and suddenly you risk creating a majority of people who are wrong. Because group members want to agree with one another it is often enough to discourage asking questions and persuading the other two people to support the majority view.

So, the desire for harmony overrides necessary conflict, with team members preferring to trust the team’s perceived good judgement usually as expressed through some dominant voices.

Groupthink is also a pervasive force when extreme emotions are involved. Teams will exaggerate any small victories and fabricate earth-shattering results. Moreover, teams in crisis will fall into a doom loop, seeing everything as a mess or failure. They can equally exaggerate or stereotype the failings in other teams in line with a sense of groupthink righteousness.

Symptoms of groupthink include:

  • Creating excessive optimism that encourages taking extreme risks
  • Discounting or discrediting warnings and not reconsidering assumptions
  • Believing in the righteousness of the team’s approach and ignoring the practical consequences of decisions
  • Constructing negative stereotypes of those outside the team, making effective responses to conflict seem unnecessary
  • Endorsing a more extreme version of what the team thought since it last met
  • Feeling under pressure not to argue against any of the team’s views, ideas or preconceptions, seeing such opposition as disloyalty
  • Doubting the team’s perceived consensus not being expressed
  • The majority view and judgements falsely being perceived as unanimous with silence being taken as consent
  • Protecting the group, particularly the leader, from adverse information or bad news that might threaten team complacency.

As a team member, and particularly if you are the leader, there are a number of ways you can help your team to avoid groupthink. You can:

  • Reframe disagreement as a necessary characteristic of high performing collaborative teams. That conflict lies at the heart of creative thinking and good decision-making
  • Invite discussion and encourage your colleagues to contribute their insights, observations and ideas (rather than opinions)
  • Avoid quickly judging other ideas or suggestions. Hear them out and then make your contributions
  • Pose questions, not opposition. Use questions to see if you can persuade your colleagues accept your point of view. For example, rather than saying “This will never work” you could ask “How do you see that working?’
  • Take turns having a different team member facilitate meetings. If you are the leader, this will help you keep your head in the content of the discussion and not make you worry about, or overly influence, the process.
  • Nominate critical evaluators of decisions and plans. This could include anything from asking others in the team to play a devil’s advocate role, asking an external facilitator to challenge the group or, taking the idea further, forming a “red team” – an external expert team to subject organisational plans or ideas to deliberate and rigorous challenge. On top of groupthink, many in the team may also be predisposed to avoiding conflict; a very common and very human tendency.


6. Conflict Avoidance: Fright Rather than Fight

Most people want to be liked (even if they say they don’t) and fear that disagreements, arguments or bad news will create tension with those they work alongside.

Add the need to show respect for authority and pressure on the team to better its performance, it can create an acute anxiety around stirring up trouble. This reluctance to engage may come from a previous poor experience of conflict, a lack of self-confidence or a belief they are ill equipped to have difficult conversations.

Gossip, back-chat, sarcasm and appearing disinterested are some of the outward signs associated with the conflict avoider who may try to influence through private coalitions or involve another colleague in an attempt to deal indirectly with an issue.

Despite the illusion of harmony, the conflict avoider has to tolerate interpersonal discomfort and resentment, and in some instances trigger negative reactions in others which could have been prevented had they spoken up at the time.

They may start to question and de-value their own opinions or ideas, and see themselves in a poor light leading to further resentment. For the team it may mean not hearing important information or possibly a bad piece of news which needs to travel fast.

So, do you avoid conflict at all costs, confront when appropriate, or enjoy conflict and seek it out?

If you are a conflict avoider here are some immediate tips:

  • Express your contrary opinion as an “and.” It is not necessary for someone else to be wrong for you to be right – “I hear you think we need to make time for putting together this proposal and I’m worried it will delay us in completing our current work. What options do we have?”
  • Use hypotheticals. If you feel uncomfortable being assertive, try asking your colleagues to imagine a different context – “I understand your concern about getting the right person to deliver the training course for the team. If we had the right person, what would the training involve?
  • Focus on the impact of actions. Instead of disagreeing with the plan, help your colleagues think through the consequences by asking open questions about the impact – “So we’re thinking of restricting this service to the UK. What effect will that have on our clients in Europe?”
  • Ask about the underlying issue. If you disagree with a proposed action, start with trying to understand the thinking behind it. If you understand the reason for the action, you might be able to find another way to accomplish the same goal. “I’m surprised you suggest we release the budget figures so early. What is your goal in doing that?”

Leaders need to be vigilant for potential conflict avoiders within their team, especially when operating in a virtual environment. Hiding behind a screen with a camera and microphone turned off allows for the easy avoidance of engaging in discussions and challenging situations.

High performance depends on all members of the group being able to challenge each other and contribute and this isn’t possible if a pervasive culture of avoidance takes hold.

7. Direct and Indirect Communicators

Direct and indirect communication styles are culturally significant and can easily cause relationship conflict if you, as a leader and a team aren’t sensitive to them.

This is particularly relevant because increasingly diverse teams mean that cultural differences are just as likely to appear across a table or screen as they are across national borders. This is heightened when a new team has been formed and is just starting to work together.

Direct communicators generally say what they think, relying on the literal meaning of their words. They usually value short and direct answers that need no further exploration, taking a speaker’s words at face value. They expect and respect honesty and getting to the point, and may think of indirect communication as a sign of weakness, untrustworthiness or deception.

In direct communication, emphasis is placed on the speaker to convey the exact meaning of the message rather than the listener having to understand it, whereas in indirect communication, emphasis is placed on the listener to understand the message.

The speaker does not reveal openly or fully what they are thinking and generally avoid conveying a message or answering a question that could be seen to cause tension or lead to an uncomfortable situation.

They are more likely to say “maybe” or “possibly” when they really mean no. They believe politeness outweighs revealing what they would otherwise really want to say. This is related to the idea of saving face, a social mechanism that places value on preserving a person’s reputation and self-esteem. In an exchange involving two indirect communicators, the listener and the speaker both work together to protect their own face and prevent the other from losing face. For that reason, an indirect communicator may see the direct communicator’s way of “telling it as it is” as too harsh or rude.

Despite the negative associations (and stereotyping) of each communication style, there is nothing right or wrong with being direct or indirect. Both approaches have advantages and each is used to different degrees.

The difficulty comes when there are differences in approach or different expectations about the use of an approach in a particular situation.

In collaboration, there is an expectation for direct and swift communication. For those in the team who are more culturally predisposed to indirect communication, this may be challenging. At the same time, direct communicators may need to learn to be more indirect and take care not to assume that direct is superior to indirect communication.

If you are a direct speaker communicating with an indirect speaker:

  • Use open questions and avoid leading questions. This will prevent putting the indirect speaker in a position in which they believe they will insult you and, therefore, not choose to answer you more directly
  • Remember that in indirect communication, the meaning is conveyed by both the words used and non-verbal behaviours such as pauses, silence, understatement and tone of voice, so be alert to non-verbal behaviours that do not appear to reflect the indirect speaker’s response.

If you are an indirect speaker communicating with a direct speaker:

  • Although it may feel uncomfortable to be direct, recognise that this is the type of communication that will be more respected in this situation (a collaborative setting)
  • Use the “sandwich technique” to provide one positive, one negative and one positive message in response to a question where your answer would otherwise have to be simply negative. This allows for an honest response without feeling you will be disrespectful or cause offence. For example, if a colleague asks you what you thought of a presentation s/he just delivered to the team and you think its content did not at times reflect the title of the presentation you could respond by saying “It was a very good idea to do a presentation on this subject. Sometimes I found it difficult to match the title of the presentation with what you were saying. I think others in the organisation would benefit from your presentation.”


8. Four Communication Styles

Communication styles can be further differentiated by the extent to which we prefer to communicate with empathy or data and the extent to which we communicate in a sequential or non-sequential way.

Being able to first identify what they are and second, adapt your approach accordingly will aid greatly in your ability to communicate effectively with your team. This is particularly important when dealing with potentially challenging issues and matters where emotions are running high.

Analytical Communicators

Analytical communicators prefer concrete data, precise language and measurable evidence.

As a member of the team, they tend to be seen as confident experts who are able to look at issues dispassionately and logically and arrive at conclusions and decisions authoritatively. You will hear them using phrases like “give me a number”, “where are those figures from?”, how did you work that out?”

Analytical communicators may be perceived as being too impersonal, blunt or superior. If you are communicating with an analytical communicator:

  • Avoid vague language
  • Present information with facts
  • Email data for review ahead of any meeting
  • Give clear expectations and space to work independently
  • Use “I know” or “I think” rather than “I feel”
  • Present your data and give them time to review. Don’t expect immediate decisions
  • Present your ideas with options where possible.

Intuitive Communicators

Intuitive communicators prefer looking at the big picture rather than being bogged down in details.

As a member of the team they tend to make decisions quickly because they don’t let themselves become overwhelmed by lots of information. They are comfortable with big ideas and they like challenging convention. You will hear them using phrases like “let’s get to the point”, let’s not worry about that right now”, “why do we have to do it like this?”

Intuitive communicators may be perceived as being impatient and likely to miss something important. If you are communicating with an intuitive communicator:

  • Arrange to meet in person or face-to-face virtually
  • Explain your idea and how it fits in with the overall picture of things first
  • Use visuals to illustrate ideas quickly
  • Give options for more detailed discussion later
  • Send a follow-up email with details later if necessary.

Functional Communicators

Functional communicators prefer drilling down into the detail. They are methodical and like to ask many questions and value immediate feedback.

As a member of the team they tend to look at everything possible to solve a problem and are often seen leading projects because of their ability in managing great detail and detailed processes. They also play a devil’s advocate role. You will hear them using phrases like “what happens next?”, “how will that happen?”, “what if…?”

Functional communicators may be perceived as being too perfectionist and providing too much information which leads to losing the attention of their colleagues. If you are communicating with a functional communicator:

  • Give a written timeline or list of expectations before discussing a project to give them time to come up with questions
  • Connect conversations and points to a process or a plan
  • Provide clear context and structure, making sure any actions or tasks in your discussion have a start and end point
  • Point out how doing something or not could impact the progress or outcome of the team’s overall goal
  • Take notes to show you are not missing details in discussion and summarise.

Personal Communicators

Personal communicators prefer to focus on relationships and connecting with others to find out what they are really thinking.

As a member of the team, they tend to take everyone’s view into consideration. They are seen as the diplomats of the team who hold it together. You will hear them using phrases like “who else needs to be involved?”, “how does that sound to you?”, “we should ask…”

Personal communicators may be perceived as being too empathetic and distracted from the team’s goal, and not the person to make an urgent decision. If you are communicating with a personal communicator:

  • Arrange to meet in person or face-to-face virtually
  • Start and maintain the conversation in an easy-going way
  • Be patient
  • Use emotional labels
  • Ask how they feel about decisions or opinions. Talk through how the outcomes will personally affect those involved
  • Follow up with any details or facts in writing after the meeting.

No one communication style is better than another and the styles reflect preferences rather strict categories.

The communication styles which are typically the most challenging to bridge are those between intuitive and functional communicators, and analytical and personal communicators.

If you’re not sure of the style ask: “what can I share with you today?” or “what would be of greatest value to you?” or “what would you like to hear?” and then listen to their response.

9. Email and Conflict

Before the Covid pandemic you didn’t have to be in a global organisation to realise that communications technology made the connectedness of working in one location more loosely knit.

Working in close proximity to others does not always mean we are together. How many times have you sent an email to a colleague who sat only a few seconds walk away?

However, conflict can easily escalate because people, who commonly communicate by e-mail, can often forget this method of interaction is not the same as synchronous conversation.

In face-to-face conversation participants are in the same physical surroundings and can see each other. They can hear the timing and intonation of each other’s speech and receive the words being spoken as they are said. They also take turns in saying things. They can pick-up on body language which is a large component of how we communicate messages. The combination of these factors ground the interaction – meaning there is a shared understanding and sense of participation in the interaction.

Participants can adjust their reactions and comments as they listen to what is being said either to clarify or correct misunderstandings.

E-mail, on the other hand, is a series of unidirectional (asynchronous) comments. Replies can often take hours or days and conflict can begin to develop because both the initial sender and recipient will have their own expectation as to the speed of the response.

Also, because e-mail contains a lack of context, people are often unable to fully comprehend what is trying to be communicated and they often misinterpret the message. This can happen particularly when individuals have had no other form of personal contact with each other and their knowledge is limited to what has been disclosed during their email contact.

An e-mail response can often contain a long string of messages, containing the contents of the previous e-mails. This can be a useful feature but can have a downside. It can allow for the direct quoting of sections of the e-mail out of context and result in over analysis and paying too much attention to the whole or parts of the email. When this happens , it increases anger and the perception of the seriousness of the issue and can lead to the recipient responding aggressively. This is made worse if, in composing the response, the recipient concentrates only on those parts of the email they found most unsettling.

Tips for Reducing Email Conflict

Conflict can be reduced when communicating by e-mail by being aware of a few points and adopting some simple practices:

  • Establish some personal contact and avoid relying purely on e-mail communication. Pick up the phone and speak to the other person
  • Avoid over analysing sections of e-mail for hidden meaning
  • E-mails are not a conversation – they are not synchronous. If you prefer a synchronous method of communication, try video conferencing, a “face-to-face” meeting, or a telephone call
  • If you can only communicate by e-mail, establish a friendly tone
  • Misinterpretations can happen by both the sender and the recipient – you may misinterpret another person’s e-mail, and equally they might also misinterpret what you have written
  • Avoid e-mail bundling. A long string of previous correspondence can often be overwhelming
  • Manage expectations for a response. Both the sender and recipient/s may have certain expectations as to the time within which to respond. This should be both realistic and manageable, for everyone concerned
  • Abbreviations and emoticons can be confusing and open to interpretation.


10. For Organisations and Leaders

Organisations generally end up with the kind of behaviour they reward. Often, they reward achievement-oriented leaders who deliver short-term results.

While an organisation may have leaders excelling in driving goals associated with strong operational leadership, and where they have direct control over specific resources, they can direct to achieve accountable results, in high performing teams they are being asked to do something else; to de-prioritise their agenda, and give up power and resources.

For many leaders who have had a successful history of applying their functional skill set, these ideas (and the skills and competencies associated with them) may be very alien to them. 

Also, in high performing teams, roles and responsibilities are not rigidly hierarchical. This may be particularly hard for leaders who may see this as an indication of their leadership weakness in not having all the answers and wanting to be seen as the “go to” person when tricky problems arise rather than one of a team who does things. Furthermore, because many leaders have forged their careers by pushing their own ideas, they may not want to act in the role of a coach or facilitator which is necessary for great teamwork.

If you are already a leader (or an organisation thinking of selecting a leader for a project or operational team) ask yourself to what degree you:

  • Achieve results by influencing rather than directing
  • Share ownership, even if it means sharing credit and rewards
  • Delegate and let others deliver results
  • Motivate a team of diverse individuals who may not share the same views as you
  • Make and action decisions with the involvement of team members
  • Act as a coach or mentor
  • Achieve results in a situation where you have no direct control over people or resources?


11. Mediation as Part of the Team and Organisational Approach

Whether on specific team collaboration initiatives or not, more organisations are using mediation skills to develop their conflict management capability and by extension, high-level performance.

This is to encourage leaders at all levels to engage more effectively in difficult conversations with their team members and also place more self-reliance in dealing with their own issues but as if from a third party’s viewpoint.

All organisations benefit from having leaders who are able to use mediation skills as part of a strategic approach in managing conflict across all levels of the organisation.

Their approach requires placing conflict management higher up the food chain and not seeing mediation only as a last attempt to resolve an issue (by which time a resolution will be more difficult or, maybe, impossible to achieve) but as a management tool which allows for better problem-solving at all stages of a conflict.

Adopting this approach is more likely to ease leaders’ worries that they will be blamed if they handle things badly or see it as a sign of weakness if they refer issues with their team to external mediation; and the feeling they have lost or are losing control of a situation or that certain issues are not capable of being addressed through mediation.

This is even more important for collaboration initiatives between organisations and teams involved in large scale and complex projects. In these circumstances project mediation may be used as a pre-emptive intervention where one or more independent and impartial persons help support team performance by managing relationships and identifying and addressing problems before they get out of hand.

Because accepting, managing and recognising the diversity of conflict lies at the heart of great teamwork, project mediation provides a structure for that to happen and addresses conflict management and dispute resolution at a strategic level.

12. How Good are You at Conflict?

So, finally, thinking of your own team, do you and your colleagues:

  • Address conflicts promptly and directly with each other?
  • Keep conflicts descriptive and/or factual, acting on information gathered or obtained rather than assumptions?
  • Keep the tone of conflicts non-threatening and non-judgmental?
  • Listen fully to dissenters and clarify understanding of their views?
  • Try to find objective criteria for resolving differences?
  • Discuss personal issues affecting performance?
  • Recognise the effect of emotions on performance and work relationships?
  • Respond to feedback requiring an improvement in performance or change in behaviour?
  • Show flexibility with different communication styles?
  • Have approaches in place to prevent groupthink?
  • Have mediator capabilities within the team and at leadership level?
  • Have approaches in place which will deal with conflicts you are unable to resolve yourselves?
  • Feel comfortable with reaching out to a facilitator outside the organisation if they run into difficulties or to help in team-building and team communication?


Final Thoughts

All organisations, teams and individuals strive for high performance. How you achieve this, particularly within the context of a hybrid working culture with increasingly geographically and culturally disparate teams is changing.

Increasingly, high performing teams are becoming synonymous, not with exceptional technical competence (although this of course remains important), but with their ability to engage with and manage conflict.

Conflict isn’t just resolving individual fallouts or disputes; it is about the capacity for teams to leverage the collective talent and abilities of its’ members. This means firstly realising conflict competency is a business essential and secondly, allocating resources to better your teams’ ability in it.

You can, with relative ease, calculate one strand of the cost of conflict to organisations. This would be looking at things such as excessive sickness, staff turnover, the number of grievances and the time taken to deal with them, as well as the management time associated with these.

The second aspect is harder to calculate. How do you put a number against teams not performing their best? In the extreme it can lead to the eventual ruin of an organisation but before that, how do  you quantify the problem? Often managers and leaders will know something is wrong but can’t quite pin down what it is. In CEDR’s experience, the root cause of underperforming teams is a lack of comfort and confidence with conflict.



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