Behind most disputes is a system that perpetuates the problem. Uncovering the system will reveal why these negative conflict outcomes keep coming back, and, hopefully, how to fix them for good.
What do we mean by “system?”
Have you ever been on a business team where the same issues seem to arise again and again? You thought you had dealt with the problem by training, shuffling the team, dismissing a person who was obviously at the center of the issue, or simply waiting for it to take care of itself - only to see something similar rear its ugly head a few weeks, months, or even years later.
If this is the case, count on the possibility that something deeper - systemic - is going on within your team or within your workplace. So, the challenge is to get to the root of the problem.
Common systemic issues that lead to disputes
Resologics’ work as conflict adviser/organizational ombuds is helping teams understand how to end their repetitive destructive conflicts once and for all. The first step is awareness of the very common systems that will predictably lead to conflicts. (Many thanks to Prof. Noam Wasserman for his extensive work on this subject which I’ve drawn from, along with our own experience working with conflict issues.)
Decision-making power is Ill-defined
Role definition has lack of clarity or fuzzy boundaries
Cultural gaps leading to misunderstanding
Conflict styles bumping against one another
‘Who works hardest?’ questions creating divisiveness
Extreme pressure and varying abilities to work effectively under pressure
Finding the System
A curious team will ideally catch warning signs early, and come together to both identify what is underlying their conflict as well as take appropriate steps to eliminate or change the system causing the problem.
Teams that have been in the weeds of conflict for a long time, or have members less experienced in conflict competency, will need a more process-oriented way of discovering the system. Conflict mapping, where a qualified insider or outsider investigates and develops a “map” of what is happening, is a common first step to a solution.
The next step is a crucial one: bringing that information to the team in a way that it can be heard, adjusted as needed, and then brought to an agreed-upon action.
Actions to Take
When you spot a conflict that is recurring and/or escalating:
Remain curious at all times.
Recognize that a conflict-causing system could be at play in your team.
Identify that system.
Take action to change the situation.
Simply knowing that a system may be in play allows leadership to guide their team(s) to look for it, identify it and deal with it rather than continue to be confused, angry, in avoidance, or just plain unable to act. The result of such a process is not only that those frustrating, unproductive issues cease to turn up again and again, but also we often see an even stronger than ever, higher-performing team emerging out of the process.