Four early warning signs of team conflict

Dealing with conflict

The best time to stop conflict is before it starts.

Have you heard that advice before? It’s much easier said than done. How do you stop something before you know it’s happening?

Here are some early warning signs that resentment or disagreement is starting to affect your staff and volunteers and you, as a leader, need to intervene.

Eye rolling

Watch people’s body language during team meetings. If person A makes a suggestion and person B rolls their eyes or makes other signs of annoyance, it’s an indication that B dislikes or lacks respect for A. If it only happens once, B may simply be having a bad day, but if the behaviour continues it’s time to step in and have a discovery meeting with B to find out what is causing the resentment and devise a solution.

Cliques form

If people within the team start breaking into groups and siding with each other against other groups, those cliques are going to start putting their own individual interests ahead of the success of the team. Gather the team together, express your concern, and remind everyone of the goals and importance of the project. Allow everyone to express their opinions and concerns in a respectful way. The earlier this is done, the easier it will be, so try to catch it at the start.

Individuals being isolated

If you notice that one or two people tend to be left out when the team gathers for social interaction, it’s a sign of trouble. There can be two general reasons, the person is disagreeable to be around or doesn’t pull their weight or the person is different than the group in some way (ie: a person of colour, a member of the LGBTQ community, etc) and there is underlying bigotry within the team.

If it’s the first, have a chat with the person to see if there is a way to mitigate the issue. For example, if the person complains a lot or is pessimistic, brainstorm ways for them to be more positive.

The second reason is more challenging to deal with. There are no simple solutions for bigotry. If this is the issue that’s facing you, I encourage you to do your research, to talk to your superiors and come up with a strategy to deal with the issue.

Back-handed compliments and/or condescension

If you hear comments such as “Oh, Mary is really good at that”, or “Bob, your English is so good!” then you know that the speaker lacks respect for the other person. There are many reasons why this might be, but in all cases, a lack of respect for another team member will lead to conflict and jeopardize your team’s success. Pull the speaker aside and find out what’s behind it, and how it can be improved.

It isn’t easy to see conflict before it becomes a major issue, but if you pay attention to the small signs of resentment and disrespect that may show up on your team, you will be able to prevent major catastrophe and ensure that your team has consistent success.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Karen Knight has provided volunteer recruitment, engagement and training for not-for-profit organizations for more than 25 years.

Her professional life has spanned many industries, working in both the private and public sectors in various leadership positions.

Through her passion for making a difference in the world, she has gained decades of experience in not-for-profits as a leader and a board member.

Karen served in Toastmasters International for more than 25 years, in various roles up to district director, where she was responsible for one of the largest Toastmasters districts in the world.

She oversaw a budget of $250,000 and 300 individual clubs with more than 5,000 members. She had 20 leaders reporting directly to her and another 80 reporting to them—all volunteers.

Karen currently serves as vice-president of the board of directors for the Kamloops Therapeutic Riding Association.

After many years working and volunteering with not-for-profits, she found many leaders in the sector have difficulty with aspects of volunteer programs, whether in recruiting the right people, assigning those people to roles that both support the organization’s mission and in keeping volunteers enthusiastic.

Using hands-on experience, combined with extensive study and research, she helps solve challenges such as volunteer recruitment, engagement and training for not-for-profit organizations.

Karen Knight can be contacted at [email protected], or through her website at https://karenknight.ca/.

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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