One of my great joys right now is coaching my eight-year-old daughter's soccer team. It is also my greatest trial, and, surprisingly, the struggle is not teaching them how to play soccer. Rather, the challenge is helping them move through conflict when they have difficulties in working together. Now, our team has never been on the verge of breaking up. Nonetheless, there have been instances when the team simply does not get along and the hope of completing a drill or a practice game dwindles. Quite simply, the team won’t move forward through the practice in a productive way—they might complete the drills, but they’ll do so begrudgingly and without enthusiasm. I realize that I can respond in a couple of ways. I could make them run. A lot. I could also just wait it out until their families pick them up from practice. Or, I could help them find their way back to enjoying learning and playing soccer together.
Not surprisingly, the challenges facing my daughter’s soccer team are not unique to this group of eight-year-old girls. In our leadership practice, we often work with teams that are struggling. They may have merely reached a bump in the road and are grappling with decision making or role confusion around what their roles are. Other times, they are also at an impasse—taking on entrenched perspectives or resisting change—and cannot find a way to move forward productively. Often times, folks will just say their team is “dysfunctional and that’s how we roll.” And yet, as observed by noted leadership practitioners Cambridge Leadership Associates, “There is no such thing as a dysfunctional system. Every [team], or system, is perfectly aligned to get the results it is currently getting.” To get different results then and move forward beyond the impasse, you need to mobilize everyone who has a stake in tackling (or avoiding) the challenge at hand. Below are some things to consider in helping you and your team tackle the conflict in front of you.