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Communication brain circuit

Brain circuits

How to boost your team’s immunity to conflict: Step 4 of 5

Published 13 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 fourth exercise to rethink conflict

In our previous brain circuits on the topic of team conflict, we looked at questioning our assumptions about others based on their appearance, behaviors and communication styles.

Today we turn to the penultimate area in this five-part series. It concerns possibly the biggest source of conflict in teams: the different ways in which team members think about the work they are doing.

As one executive with a US apparel company sums it up: “There is often tension between the ready-fire-aim types on our team and the more analytical colleagues.”

Ask your team to respond to these questions:

  1. In your world… is uncertainty viewed as a threat or an opportunity?
  2. What’s more important: the big picture or the details?
  3. Is it better to be reliable or flexible?
  4. What is your attitude toward failure?
  5. How do you tolerate deviations from the plan?

Remember to ask yourself, too.

Your team members’ cognitive styles will likely differ greatly, particularly with regard to methodical versus intuitive thinking. But once they are aware of the problem, you can move on to thinking collectively about ways to match team needs to mindsets, such as by rotating leadership of projects.


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.


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