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Communication brain circuit

Brain circuits

How to boost your team’s immunity to conflict: Step 2 of 5

IbyIMD+ Published 3 April 2021 in Brain circuits • 2 min read

Most teams take a reactive approach to conflict by trying to improve team members’ capabilities to respond to clashes. These approaches often allow frustrations to build up for too long, making it difficult to reset negative impressions.

But what if you tried to immunize colleagues against the negative impact of differences at a very early stage in the team’s existence? The skills needed to facilitate such proactive discussions are far easier to master than those required for conflict resolution.

A simple tool can help structure open conversations around five domains – along with five sets of questions designed to surface key differences that disrupt team functioning. The approach empowers managers to facilitate team discussions before the differences between colleagues have had a chance to trigger strong emotions or animosity.

A second exercise to rethink conflict

In our last brain circuit we looked at questioning our first impressions of people.

But clashing behavioral norms and misjudging others for having different behaviors and attitudes to you can blow up into major disagreements.

To get your team to accept the variety of attitudes, from those on punctuality to assertiveness, and possible different interpretations of these, have them answer questions such as:

1. In your world… how important are punctuality and time limits?
2. Are there consequences of being late or missing deadlines?
3. Should people volunteer for assignments or wait to be nominated?
4. What group behaviors are valued (helping others, not complaining)?

Remember to ask yourself these questions too.

Once you have asked the basic questions, get team members to go a step further and consider peoples’ different possible motivations for their behavior. Behind these are their values.

Give these 2 examples:

• Regarding deadlines, some may value highly hitting the milestone originally set, while others may instead value being able to respond nimbly as circumstances evolve.

• Some may voluntarily take on a project because they feel it signals commitment, whereas others may feel doing so comes across as shallow self-promotion.

It’s important to establish team norms around all these behaviors, to avoid unnecessary antagonism.


Ginka Toegel - IMD Professor

Ginka Toegel

Professor of Organizational Behavior and Leadership at IMD

Ginka Toegel is a teacher, facilitator, and researcher in the areas of leadership and human behavior. Specialized in providing one-to-one leadership coaching and team-building workshops to top management teams in both the public and private sector, her major research focuses on leadership development, team dynamics, and coaching. She is also Director of the Strategies for Leadership program and the Mobilizing People program.

Jean-Louis Barsoux - IMD Professor

Jean-Louis Barsoux

Research Professor at IMD

Jean-Louis Barsoux helps organizations, teams, and individuals change and reinvent themselves. He was educated in France and the UK, and holds a PhD in comparative management from Loughborough University in England. His doctorate provided the foundation for the book French Management: Elitism in Action (with Peter Lawrence) and a Harvard Business Review article entitled The Making of French Managers.

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