Team motivation: managing tensions, conflicts and frustrations within the team

Motivating a team in the company means anticipating conflicts between people… and managing conflicts at a high level within the team. This dossier explains how to keep the team motivated by adapting its management style. And ends with an exercise in the form of a game.

This article is the fourth in a series devoted to motivating a team in the workplace.

Every human relationship involves tensions, frustrations within the team as well as conflicts. Conflicts are often internalized by the people in the team until a drop of water breaks the camel’s back. As a team manager, it is your duty to anticipate these conflicts and manage them in the best interest of the team.

The first thing to understand is that all sources of conflict within a team are about Power.

Anticipate conflicts within the team

Is it about preventing conflict from occurring? Certainly not! First of all you are not a God who would decide the condition of his flock. Then it is impossible to prevent all conflicts. It costs too much time. Finally, open conflict within the team is a healthy safety valve because it allows for open talk.

In my experience it is better to have a good, frank, honest and constructive discussion rather than latent wars: latent wars are much more insidious. Difficult to untangle and destructive anyway.

You notice that depending on the way you manage the team, you can sow the seeds of discord voluntarily or involuntarily. Some mistakes are to be avoided in the management style.

One thinks in particular of those errors which, once committed, sow the seeds of discord and therefore are not a source of motivation for the company team:

  • Set rules for some, and set rules for others.
  • Failing to respect team members equally.
  • Evoking in a formal or informal way decisions that are being discussed with certain people in the team.
  • Giving instructions to certain people involving others who are not aware of them.
  • Giving instructions and coming back to them some time later without explanation.
  • Asking for advice from some people and not from others.
  • Listen passively to one person’s concerns about teamwork (which by definition involves one or more other people).
  • Listen passively to criticism without reacting.
  • Letting someone make a strategic decision for you.
  • Scrub spontaneous suggestions out of the way (without serious argumentation).
  • Ask for ideas and suggestions from the team, keeping some and not others without serious argument.
  • Decide that someone is wrong or right without being able to prove it factually.
  • Not trying to find out why someone in the team is less motivated (than before, or in comparison to other people).

This is already a lot of mistakes to avoid in team management. But I’m sure I’ve forgotten some very important ones (you can tell that by reacting to the article). Coming back to the notion of power within the team that I mentioned earlier.

Finally, the rule of management is to respect two points. Active presence and fairness :

  • Don’t leave any power vacuum. A manager’s weaknesses are always filled by someone…
  • Do not give more powers to some over others (subject to the organization chart of course).

Manage conflicts within the team to maintain motivation

A lot of worries between people are closed. That is to say that people do not bring them up openly. If you feel a latent conflict between people, I advise you to make people bring it up openly.

It is a matter of channelling tensions and conflicts to bring them to a positive outcome:

Channelling tensions and conflicts is transposing in a factual way the concern invoked by one of the people in the team. It is to lay out the underlying concern that causes the conflict. Not dealing with the consequence.

Bringing tensions and conflicts to a positive outcome means finding solutions that are acceptable to all. By the people involved, and by you: there is no question of arriving at a soft consensus. You are the manager, you are the leader. The consensus must be compatible with the direction you are leading the company and its team in.

Ideally, conflict is handled in this way:

  • A exposes his grievances to B in a factual and open manner and proposes one or more solutions acceptable to all.
  • B explains to A his or her point of view, discusses and accepts one of the solutions proposed by B, or proposes one or more alternative solutions acceptable to all.
  • If necessary, C (you) participate in the discussion to manage the discussion in the manner of a facilitator who lets everyone speak and clarifies the issues. The goal is for A and B to find an outcome that is favourable to their relationship, and that this outcome is compatible with your vision.
  • At the end of the discussion, each person feels they have been listened to and considered by the other. And equally by you. Everyone leaves with a mutually acceptable solution.

Exercise: a conflict ideally handled by the manager… it’s up to you.

In addition to the elements in this dossier, I propose a small example of a problem that can occur in any company, between two people on the same team. It’s a game to help keep the team motivated by reacting to a conflict.

You are offered the beginning of the conflict. It is up to you to think about what you would do if you were the manager of these two people in the light of what you have just read :

The parties: Person A is responsible for creating a report. Person B uses it for his or her own work. A and B are not subordinate.

We propose a conversation that could happen if A returned his report to B a little late. In italics, you will read all the innuendoes contained in this a priori very banal discussion between two people on the same team.

A: transmits his paper report to B.

B: flip through it quickly.

B: – There is a typo on page 4, could you please send me before 5pm the Word version by email so that I can correct it (innuendoes: before 5pm because you are late / it would be better if I did it no?).

A: Sorry for the typing mistake, I will correct it and send it back to you as soon as possible. (implied: I don’t apologize for the delay because I don’t accept your request to get my job back: no, it wouldn’t be better if you did).

B: It would have to be before 5pm because otherwise I wouldn’t have time to finish before leaving (implied: since you don’t need me, in this case I order you to give me a perfect job before 5pm).

A: Ok, I’ll see. (innuendo: you’re not my boss).

On that note, A gives B his report back at 5:00 pm (5:03 pm for example). B does not fail to note this schedule and therefore decides not to do the work from A’s report because A is late. This will be for tomorrow morning.

The next day at 08.30, manager C asks B for the result of his work.

There are a multitude of possible endings to this banal story within a team. Can you see how manager C could react so that at the end of the story this banal worry does not end 3 months later in trench warfare between A and B?

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