Destructive conflicts are real and frequent in startup companies. Almost two thirds of all startups that fail, fail due to interpersonal conflicts, disputes, and problems within the management team (Wasserman).
In 2012, after having worked for almost five years as a mediator, conflict coach, trainer, and confidant in more than 300 business conflict management cases, I was struck by a few cases in particular. They were cases involving smart people, in well funded businesses, with amazing ideas, bright futures, endless possibilities for creating revenue streams, and terrific teams. The one big thing I saw in common was that most of them were in crisis mode. That's when we get called in after all. For a variety of predictable systemic reasons they had gone over the cliff so not only did they need to get their jobs done, they needed to also rebuild their teams, and in some cases, their close relationships, from the bottom up.
I started talking with founders and investors and co-founders and friends and anyone I could about this conflict in startups phenomenon and quickly came to realize that we are surrounded by it. I did some background research and the data supported the idea that the failure rate in startups due to conflict was huge. I started interviewing and sharing the results and the idea of focusing a multi-part Ombuds Model on startups and their investors and I had the unmet need confirmed by all twenty plus interviewees.
Predictable: When people are put into situations like startups encounter there will be conflict. No doubt at all. Due to the very nature of the environment startups operate in, they are ripe for conflict at many levels. There are eleven predictable systemic issues that can lead to destructive conflict in startups. If it can be predicted, we can manage it and minimize the effects of it.
Manageable: There are many proven models of conflict management. I believe that the most closely relevant and proven model that addresses what startups need is that of the Organizational Ombudsman. Some tailoring is needed to make it a perfect fit for the startup community, but in general it's a no-nonsense way of consistently dealing with this conflict issue.
The really unexpected and beautiful part about working with entrepreneurs to mitigate, prevent, and resolve disputes is that the very same skills they learn in and around conflict also help them build much more creative and nimble teams. Not a lot of kumbaya, just real skills in handling the most complex thing in the world - human relationships.
This venue and the Resologics website is a place to describe the ins and outs of the conflict problem, and the solution, over time. My hope is that it becomes an interactive place and that the learning moves in many different directions in this active community of ours.
Please come back an visit again soon! Mark