Teams – whether in-house or virtual – consist of people. And having people around means conflicts and disagreements are inevitable. That's the capital T truth, and we have to face it. It could be something as silly as one of the employees taking someone else’s chair or creating a mess on a shared desk. Or problems could be more severe. Like an employee disrespecting another’s values and beliefs or bullying them.
Some managers swear on their mother's health that conflict resolution is impossible with a remote team. Why? Because there is no face-to-face communication. The lack of which makes it easier for employees to misinterpret each other. Managers feel that finding a solution that pleases everyone will tear them apart.
I 100% disagree with these people, and I’ll tell you why. I’ll also share with you tips that have proven to work in conflict resolution.
Virtual Teams Can Fix Problems Instantly
I know what you’re thinking – and no, I am not a mind-reader!
“If there is a problem in my staff, I can call up a meeting and discuss it, since we’re in the same building – and done!”
I say: hold your horses! Scheduling a meeting can be a real struggle. You must consider the availability and workload of your employees. As a result, you will keep putting it off, and the subject of conflict festers and gets worse by the day.
Then, there's another critical element of in-house disputes. That element is the psychology of seeing your “enemy” and facing him/her on a daily basis. People are more reluctant to show their emotions, speak up and talk out the problems in real life.
In a virtual setting, people are more confident. They are more able to stand up for themselves and express their points.
Don't believe it? Let’s check in with the science of human psychology, shall we? The I-can-say-whatever-I-want-online phenomenon is known as The Online Disinhibition Effect in psychology. This fancy term means that people don’t obey social restrictions when online.
From the remote team manager’s pov, it means your employees will share their concerns. And if you know the whats and whys of the conflict, solving it is much easier. It’s time to take a look at concrete steps that will assist you in clearing up the tension.
Step #1 – What’s The Problem, Though?
First things first. Go ahead and understand what the problem is. Identify whether it is task-related or due to interpersonal skills. This distinction is going to determine your approach. Try to get to the core of the issue. Your designer and web-developer not getting along is not enough to declare “yes, I know what the problem is.” Knowing all the details will be very useful, especially during the second step, which is …
Step #2 – Why Exactly Did That Happen?
A video chat with your designer and web-developer and saying “get along” is not solving an issue. You have to cut the reasons that are at the root of the disagreement.
Was it a matter of miscommunication? It could have been that cultural differences led to misunderstandings.
As a manager, your task is to dive deep into ALL – and I’ll repeat this – ALL the matters that started the conflict. Otherwise, you’ll be treading water.
Step #3 – Listen To Both Sides
And you better do this working with each “side” at a time. If you make it into a group discussion, it’s going to turn into a fight. Annoyed people don’t listen to each other and will do anything to prove they’re right.
Schedule individual calls with the two factions. Gather as much information as you can until you can put yourself in their shoes.
Step #4 – The game is on
If we were in a Sherlock movie, “the game would be on,” Watson.
As Holmes would say, we have the problem, we know the reasons, so it’s time to get down to action.
Here, my tips will get a little vague. Sorry! There are a hundred thousand possible problems and solutions. Discussing them one by one in an article would take a couple of lifetimes. Nonetheless, you have all the resources, tools, and information. Knowing this, making the right decisions won’t ask for sleepless nights and all your energy.
Try to create a win win situation by appealing to the team spirit if the solution you offer is in favor of one side over the other. Whenever possible, try to come up with a compromise by taking into account everyone’s needs.
Worst case scenario, you can always change the team and assign different partners. Bear that in mind if you’ve tried a couple of times and the problem persists. Sometimes, it’s the best solution.
How about minimizing conflict?
Note that I didn’t say “avoid” because let’s admit, it’s hardly possible.
Leaders such as Joel Peterson, chairman of JetBlue Airways claim healthy and managed conflict can generate new ideas. This kind of conflict can also result in a better workflow, and increase productivity.
The moral of the story is that you shouldn’t let conflict scare you, but learn to embrace it.
(This doesn’t mean you should create artificial problems because, hey, world-class leaders say it’s good for business.)
Focus on reducing small and unnecessary conflict. Some examples are misinterpreted messages, tasks or privacy issues. Here is how you do it:
Have an online discussion platform. All the team members should be present there. The team must have access to all the projects, dates, shared files, and updates related to their work. This way you can guarantee that everyone is on the same page. But for the sake of privacy, you can have subcategories. Setup channels and items that are accessible to everyone or only to a particular group.
Assign a mediator, someone to whom people can turn to when conflict arises. Rule of thumb: the sooner you solve it, the better. Letting the issue sit until you have the time to handle it is… How do I put it …. Wrong. It could be the project manager, HR or a position created especially for that effect. Have someone dedicated to problem-solving ready to tackle them as they arise.
Online chats are crucial. And you need all kinds -, audio, video and text. Virtual teams are susceptible to lack of communication. The reasons are plentiful: time zone differences, language, not feeling the tone, culture – the list goes on. Video chat comes to the rescue. Face-to-face communication allows your employees to understand each other better.
Have some quality time with your virtual team. As we all know, you can do that virtually, too. If the team members bond, they’ll be able to solve their issues among themselves, and you won’t have to interfere.
You don’t have to be an expert negotiator to reduce stress in virtual teams. Keep an objective mindset. Take your time evaluating the situation. When you're ready, use all the leverage you can get to come up with a suitable solution.
Of course, you can avoid a good amount of conflict by hiring the right people. Real pros will create much less conflict. DistantJob can help with that! Contact us.