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Weathering Storms: When Conflict Engulfs the
High Impact Team

by Cynder Niemela


I'd like to talk about how coaches should respond to storms and squalls – those inevitable conflicts and struggles for power that emerge when human beings attempt to accomplish goals together.

Managing Differences

Conflict often arises from differences in values, beliefs, personality, opinions and work and communication style. That is why high impact teams should include a method for ironing out conflict in their working agreements. When a team knows it has a structure and an agreement to address members' differences, it is more likely to meet the conflict head on and defuse it with dispatch.

Bringing Team Members Into Alignment

Here is an exercise for aligning team members who have descended into conflict:

  • Ask each person to write three to five sentences describing the conflict situation.
  • Ask each person to share their understanding of the conflict based on what they've written.
  • Ask each person to repeat what they heard the other person say. It is vital that each person hears and understands what the other person said.
  • Ask the two people to create a statement of their shared understanding of the conflict.
  • Ask the participants: How would you like it to be?
  • Give them equal time to share their picture of a successful outcome.
  • Have each individual repeat what they heard the other say regarding a successful outcome. Emphasize that they are not agreeing to the others' desires; rather they are confirming that they understand the request.

Now ask each participant to drill down a little further regarding his or her solution:

  1. What would be required of you to make this solution work?
  2. What are you willing to do?
  3. What could happen if this doesn't work?
  4. What are your major concerns? (This part should be written down)
  • Schedule a follow-up meeting to evaluate the implementation of the solution and to revise the action steps.
  • Conduct a Contingency Meeting. What's working and what isn't working? Give each person the same amount of time to speak, and request that neither person judge or rebut the other's observations.
  • Ask the participants to amend their original action plan. Keep amending the plan until it works for everybody.
  • Endorse and thank the participants.

Managing Differences

Remember: conflict is a natural part of teamwork. It is not a sign that your team lacks chemistry or "the right stuff" to get the job done. As long as conflict is mediated early and de-fused, it can actually add to the synergy of the high impact team.

That's one of the things that separate them from ordinary teams. invariably involved shared leadership. The term "shared leadership" contrasts with the "command and control" style of leadership, in which control and authority rest exclusively with those at the top of the organizational ladder. In high impact teams, all team members assume decision-making authority and responsibility for the team's results.

Look at your team. Do all team members feel empowered to make decisions about their own work? Are team members creative problem-solvers? Do team members take initiative? Is the team leader free to coordinate the team's activities without constantly being called in to troubleshoot problems for team members?

The idea of shared leadership is based on mutual respect and caring for all team members. Far from diminishing the leader's influence on the team, distributing responsibility highlights the leader's significance, while bringing out the best in others.

Command and Control

In the traditional command and control model, the leader's trust of the abilities of others is low. Hence leaders command employees in what to do and then control how they do it. The natural intelligence of team members is never given a chance to grow. Creativity, willingness to take initiative, and active ownership for results by team members is suppressed. Such teams remain low-impact teams, no matter how hard everyone works. The leader will have a hard time holding on to a vision for the team when she is constantly ensnared in micro-managing the team's work. The team members feel stunted, their energies trapped. In this atmosphere, it is impossible to develop the kind of synergy that characterizes high impact teams.

Let Their Talent Shine Through

Leading a high impact team, on the other hand, requires the leader to be much more competent at listening, and at constellating a wide variety of tasks and individual needs. It is far more difficult to motivate a talented group of people to complete a coordinated cluster of tasks well than it does to order someone to comply.

Generations X and Y, for example, will not tolerate command and control leadership. They commit their time and expertise when there is a personal connection, and not merely because someone commands it. One of the benefits of practicing shared leadership is that you will attract the best talent to your team.


The Author

Leading High Impact Teams

Cynder Niemela coaches executives and business teams to Peak Performance. Her book, Leading High Impact Teams: The Coach Approach to Peak Performance was voted one of the Best Business Books for 2001 by The CEO Refresher.

For additional information email: or visit .

Many more articles in Coaching and High Perfomance Teams in The CEO Refresher Archives
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Copyright 2002 by Cynder Niemela. All rights reserved.

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