How to reduce conflict in an opinionated team

Given a choice between a go-with-the-flow team or one more apt to butt heads, some leaders lean toward what’s more manageable. However, opportunity and passion are often lurking behind the strongest opinions.

When a team can effectively manage conflict, more innovative solutions emerge and more risks can be managed. Learn how to manage conflict on your opinionated team at a tactical level and how to maintain results long term.

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1. Align Organizational Priorities to Daily Work

Every role on your organization chart has a purpose, but every role doesn’t have the same exposure to your priorities. Back-office roles are essential, but it can be challenging to align the importance of effective data integrity to quarterly earnings.

Review the scope of your organization’s strategy and compare it with the roles on your team. Drill down to job-level descriptions, highlighting key tactics that make a difference. Then, connect these tactics to your direct reports’ roles, including this alignment throughout your organization.

Using this approach, your organization can achieve strategy alignment, where a team’s function aligns with organizational purpose. While it may make sense to you why everyone’s role matters, individual contributors may not have your perspective or exposure. Incorporate connection points of team input during meetings, one-on-one check-ins, and large-scale communications. Repeat and reinforce these principles until they become second nature to you and your team.

Reduce barriers to information, like the reasons behind decision-making, risks to manage, and financial priorities. Provide open access to your team through shared files, presenting high-level reports, and inviting them to key meetings. When your team understands how their role contributes to the common good, teams are more efficient and productive.

2. Involve Team Members in Decision-Making

There’s a reason why the simple act of going to work is often referred to as “the daily grind.” The day-in, day-out, repetitive nature of many roles, while still important, can be draining. Add in the external pressures your employees may face, and it can begin to show up in their work. Engage your team in the big-picture, and the plans contributing to it, to direct your employees’ opinions toward shared successes.

Teams that share openly, communicate often, and solicit input from all members can enjoy less conflict and better results. Leaders may have greater experience and a perspective on the big picture, but individual contributors are closer to daily operations. This real-time engagement with back-end processes, customer interaction, and technical glitches means valuable insight is readily available. However, many leaders glaze over garnering employee input, missing out on opportunities, and inviting unnecessary risk.

Adopt a practice of transparent communication, inviting feedback equitably, no matter the team members’ role. Include colleagues in early discussions, establishing working groups of cross-functional members. Assemble groups with employees of varying levels of experience, assigning roles to junior staffers to encourage fresh insight.

Research has found that team decision-making boosts decision quality and reduces confusion later in projects. In a team setting, more questions can be asked before decisions are made, which can be intimidating to challenge afterward. Plus, involving team members in the decision-making process can increase their overall job satisfaction, commitment, and even retention.

3. Approach Dissent With Curiosity

One common thread amongst opinionated teams is a secondary layer of communication. Water cooler talks, rumor mills, and closed-door conversations can yield dissent that poses serious risks to your organization. These office-culture bad habits are a symptom of a larger problem, often rooted in information mismanagement and a lack of transparency.

Face dissenting teams with a spirit of curiosity, setting egos aside to listen, learn, and consider what’s driving these feelings. Encourage candid conversations amongst your team, leading by example consistently to establish trust. Explicitly request candor, even if that means welcoming negative feedback. Then, when it’s given, follow through on your promise to listen without fear of repercussion.

Leading a team of dissenting employees is challenging, and it requires leaders to prepare themselves on how to react productively. Listen, ask questions, and probe for more details, keeping inquiries open-ended. Thank your team for sharing with you and follow-up on any takeaways or requests. While you may not always be able to act on feedback, still treat it with respect.

Harness the energy of candid teams toward your shared goals, recognizing that candor often pairs with commitment. If your team members didn’t care, why would they bother to elevate their concerns? Honor their commitment, curiosity, and suggestions on how your team can be better by protecting and reinforcing honesty. Incorporate opportunities for candid conversations by hosting town halls, facilitating employee engagement surveys, and reserving time for feedback in meetings.

Reinforce Shared Goals to Empower Passionate Teams

Often the most challenging part of any project or initiative is reinforcing the changes made. Now that you know how to reduce conflict in your opinionated team, you need to reinforce your new habits. Adopt language that brings tenets of your strategies into daily conversations. Kick-off meetings with a review of your shared goals to keep teams centered on their purpose.

Partner with your organization’s internal communications team to integrate your strategy, goals, and vision into culture initiatives. When you reinforce your shared goals, your team can more effectively direct their passion toward achieving them.