Smoothing tactics may work if the issue is temporary or peripheral. In such cases, con”ict may disappear on its own, much to everyone’s relief. But con”ict suppressed early in a group’s life tends to resurface later—again and again. If smoothing tactics fail and con”ict persists, another option is might-makes-right. If Tony senses con”ict between Karen and himself, he may employ Model I thinking: Because we disagree, and I am right, she is the problem; I need to get her to shape up. Tony may try any of several strategies to change Karen. He may try to convince her he’s right. He may push others in the group to side with him and put pressure on Karen. He may subtly, or not so subtly, criticize or attack her. If Karen thinks she is right and Tony is the problem, the two are headed for a collision that may be painful for everyone.
If Model I is a costly approach to con”ict, what else might a group do? Here are some guidelines that often prove helpful.
Develop skills. More organizations are recognizing that group effectiveness depends on members’ ability to understand what is happening and contribute effectively. Skills like listening, communicating, managing con”ict, and building consensus are critical building blocks in a high-performing group.
Agree on the basics. Groups too often plunge ahead without taking the time to agree on goals and procedures. Down the road, people continue to stumble over unresolved issues.
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Shared understanding and commitment around the basics are a powerful glue to hold things together in the face of the inevitable stress of group life.
Express con”ict productively. Weingart et al. (2015) argue that how con”ict is expressed makes a big difference in whether it turns productive or destructive. They focus on two dimensions of con”ict expression. One is directness. “I think your statement is wrong” is direct. “Maybe,” is indirect. The other dimension is “intensity of opposition” (Weingart et al., 2015, p. 235). Intensity is high when people become entrenched and start attacking each other. An example: “No way you can change my mind, because your idea is stupid.” Low intensity of opposition is expressed through indications of interest in dialogue and willingness to be in”uenced. For example: “We disagree, but I’d like to understand your thinking better.” Weingart et al. suggest that groups handle con”ict best when they express it directly but minimize oppositional intensity. In other words, they are tough and direct on substance but gentle on one another.
Search for common interests.How does a group reach agreement if it starts out divided? It helps to keep asking, “What do we have in common? If we disagree on the issue at hand, how can we put it in a more inclusive framework where we can all agree?” If Tony and Karen clash on the need for a leader, where do they agree? Perhaps both want to do the task well. Recognizing commonalities makes it easier to confront differences. It also helps to remember that common ground is often rooted in complementary differences (Lax and Sebenius, 1986). Karen’s desire to be visible is compatible with Bob’s preference to be in the background. Conversely, similarity (as when Karen and Tony both want to lead) is often a source of con”ict.
Experiment. If Tony is sure the group needs a leader (namely, him) and Karen is equally convinced it does not, the group could bog down in endless debate. Susan, the group’s social specialist, might propose an experiment: Because Karen sees it one way and Tony sees it another, could we try one meeting with a leader and one without to see what happens? Experiments can be a powerful response to con”ict. They offer a way to move beyond stalemate without forcing either party to lose face or admit defeat. Parties may agree on a test even if they can’t agree on anything else. Equally important, theymay learn something that moves the conversation to a more productive plane.
Doubt your infallibility. This was the advice that Benjamin Franklin offered his fellow delegates to the U.S. constitutional convention in 1787: “Having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged by better information, or fuller consid- eration, to change opinions even on important subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise. It is therefore that the older I grow, the more apt I am to
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doubt my own judgment, and to pay more respect to the judgment of others” (Rossiter, 1966).
Groups typically possess diverse resources, ideas, and outlooks. A group that sees diversity as an asset and a source of learning has a good chance for a productive discussion and resolution of differences. Con”ict can be a good thing—con”ict about ideas promotes effectiveness, even though personal con”ict gets in the way (Cohen and Bailey, 1997). In the heat of the moment, though, a !ve-person group can easily turn into !ve teachers in search of a learner or a lynch mob in search of a victim. At such times, it helps if at least one person asks, “Are we all sure we’re infallible? Are we really hearing one another?”
Treat differences as a group responsibility. If Tony and Karen are on a collision course, it is tempting for others to stand aside. But all will suffer if the team fails. The debate between Karen and Tony re”ects personal feelings and preferences but also addresses leadership as an issue of shared importance.
Leadership and Decision Making in Groups A !nal problem that every groupmust resolve is the question of navigation: “Howwill we set a course and steer the ship, particularly in stormy weather?”Groups often get lost. Meetings are punctuated with statements like “I’mnot sure where we’re going” or “Does anyone know what we’re talking about?”
Leadership helps groups develop a shared sense of direction and commitment. Other- wise, a group becomes rudderless or moves in directions that no one supports. Noting that teams are capable of very good and very bad performance, Hackman emphasizes that a key function of leadership is setting a compelling direction for the team’s work that “is challenging, energizes teammembers and generates strong collective motivation to perform well” (2002, p. 72). Another key function of leadership in groups, as in organizations, is managing relationships with external constituents. Druskat and Wheeler found that effective leaders of self-managing teams “move back and forth across boundaries to build relationships, scout necessary information, persuade their teams and outside constituents to support one another, and empower their teams to achieve success” (2003, p. 435).
Still a third key leadership function is helping the group manage time. Maruping et al. (2015) found that time pressure hurts team performance when it is badly managed and leads to last-minute chaos and panic. But time pressure improves performance when leadership helps the group organize to deal with it through “scheduling of interim milestones, synchronization of tasks, and restructuring of priorities. These efforts result in higher team performance” (Maruping et al., 2015, p. 2014).
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Though leadership is essential, it need not come from only one person. A single leader focuses responsibility and clari!es accountability. But the same individual may not be equally effective for all tasks and circumstances. Groups sometimes do better with a shared and “uid approach, regularly asking, “Who can best take charge in this situation?” Katzenbach and Smith (1993) discovered that a key characteristic of high-performance teams was mutual accountability, fostered when leaders were willing to step back and team members were prepared to share the leadership.
Leadership, whether shared or individual, plays a critical role in group effectiveness and individual satisfaction. Leaders who overcontrol or understructure tend to produce frustration and ineffectiveness (Maier, 1967). Good leaders are sensitive to both task and process. They enlist others actively in managing both. Effective leaders help group members communicate, work together, and do what they are there to do. Less-effective leaders try to dominate and get their own ideas accepted.
CONCLUSION Employees hire on to do a job but always bring social and personal baggage with them. At work, they spend much of their time interacting with others, one to one and in groups. Both individual satisfaction and organizational effectiveness depend heavily on the quality of interpersonal relationships and team dynamics.
Individuals’ social skills are a critical element in the effectiveness of relationships at work. Interpersonal dynamics are counterproductive as often as not. People frequently employ theories-in-use (behavioral programs) that emphasize self-protection and the control of others. Argyris and Schön developed an alternative model built on values of mutuality and learning. Salovey and Mayer, as well as Goleman, underscore the importance of emotional intelligence—social skills that include awareness of self and others and the ability to handle emotions and relationships.
Small groups are often condemned for wasting time while producing little, but groups can be both satisfying and ef!cient. In any event, organizations cannot function without them. Managers need to understand that groups always operate at two levels: task and process. Both levels need to be considered if groups are to be effective. Among the signi!cant process issues that groups have to manage are informal roles, group norms, interpersonal con”ict, and leadership.
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The Political Frame
When you ponder the word politics, what images come to mind? Are any of them positive or helpful? For many people, the answer is no. Around the globe, politics and politicians are widely despised and viewed as an unavoidable evil. In organizations, phrases like “they’re playing politics” or “it was all political” are invariably terms of disapproval.
Similar attitudes surround the idea of power, a concept that is central in political thinking. In her last interview, only days before she was assassinated in December 2007, Benazir Bhutto was asked whether she liked power. Her response captured the mixed feelings many of us harbor: “Power has made me suffer too much. In reality I’m ambivalent about it. It interests me because it makes it possible to change things. But it’s left me with a bitter taste” (Lagarde, 2008, p. 13).