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Managing conflict in remote teams

To achieve business growth objectives, it is critical to break-down silos between departments and to promote cross-functional collaboration. If at an organizational level, a workplace lacks open communication and transparency, there is a high probability of the culture becoming toxic with people having a mindset of self-preservation. This is magnified in today's #VUCA business environment and with remote teams becoming the norm increasingly. Although encouraging open communication and transparency is not easy, it doesn't have to be overwhelming either, even for remote teams WFH.

As a starting point, you should examine the culture and behaviours that you are encouraging or discouraging at the workplace.

1. Discourage the “Us vs Them” mentality and build meaningful connections

Often, poor communication and lack of collaboration in the workplace leads to unnecessarily antagonistic and destructive conflict. This, in turn, stems from an "Us vs Them" mentality. Conflicts arise between two departments or teams or people when there's a lack of clear communication, limited understanding about the importance of each other's work or contribution, and minimal effort to collaborate. When employees aren't made aware of the value of collaboration, they may consciously or subconsciously begin to "compete" instead of to collaborate.

Stop the blame game or taking sides. It is unhelpful and only exacerbates the conflict. Instead, consider ways you may be able to facilitate a discussion between the parties affected including how you may support the affected parties to start building meaningful connections.

2. Acknowledge you may not know best and encourage open communication

Due to the complexity of businesses today, your people probably have a more thorough understanding of the business operations they are responsible for and possibly great suggestions for improvements and optimization. It would also be beneficial for you to be aware of the challenges your people are facing in the workplace and to work with them to address them substantively.

Encourage your team to share their points of views, not only about what is going well but importantly what is not. Request for suggestions, constructive feedback and keep clear lines of open communication. In today's context, your company chat shouldn’t be the only way for them to get in touch with you. Consider informal channels of communication too.

3. Ask specific, open-ended questions

Due to the complexity of businesses today discussed above, asking very specific, open-ended questions is crucial to get to the "what happened?".

  • “Hey, I noticed you are working on the X project alone, what can I do to support you?”

  • “I’ve noticed a significant decline in your output. Is everything okay at home?”

  • “We’re facing trouble trying to link X and Y tasks. Would you have any suggestions on how to go about it?”

  • "How are you feeling?"

Importantly, do not simply listen to their concerns and feedback without acting upon them. Take action and ensure that their conflicts and concerns are acknowledged and addressed on a timely. If they cannot be addressed, be open about it.

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