Working in virtual teams has become the norm for many organizations. While remote work provides flexibility, it can also lead to miscommunication and conflict between team members. As a leader of a virtual team, it’s important to address conflict head-on before it harms productivity and morale. Here are some tips on how to handle disagreement and tension among your remote employees.
The first step is ensuring there are open lines of communication between all team members. When working remotely, people cannot simply turn to the person next to them to chat or provide feedback. You need to instill a culture where speaking up is encouraged, and people feel safe expressing opinions or concerns.
Schedule regular video check-ins for your entire team as well as one-on-ones with each employee. Make it clear that your digital door is always open. Provide multiple channels to reach you or others, such as email, instant messaging, and phone. Communication reduces the chance of misunderstandings.
Clarify Work Processes
Often conflict arises when expectations around work are not clearly defined. As a manager of a remote team, outline what success looks like for each person and the larger group. Provide documentation on how work should be completed, like naming conventions for shared files or templates for reports. Standardizing routines and rituals for how your team operates can reduce potential areas of confusion.
You should also explain bigger picture goals and metrics so people understand how their role ladders up to overall objectives. When everyone is united behind the same mission, there will be less room for friction.
Address Issues Quickly
If you sense tension brewing, take action before things boil over. If two employees have a disagreement, schedule a call to let them hash it out. Make yourself available as a neutral third-party mediator. By acknowledging the conflict and talking it through respectfully, you can keep it from spiraling out of control.
Do not let griping happen behind closed doors or let negative energy fester. You want your team to feel safe speaking up when problems arise so concerns do not remain unaddressed. Though never easy, confronting conflict head-on often leads to the best resolutions.
Focus on Strengths
When conflict occurs, remind team members of their shared purpose and each person’s unique strengths. Highlight how diverse skillsets and opinions allow the group to do its best work. Rather than criticizing weaknesses, celebrate what each brings to the table.
You can assign team building exercises that allow people to recognize positive attributes in others. When everyone remembers their common goals and values, it helps smooth over disagreements. Emphasizing strengths over weaknesses reframes conflict as an opportunity for growth.
Bring in a Mediator
For very serious or persistent issues, it may help to bring in an outside mediator. They can give an objective perspective and help facilitate a dialogue between conflicting parties. Especially with complex team dynamics, having a skilled conflict resolution expert guide the process can be invaluable. Representatives from human resources or a consulting firm like CMA Consulting that specializes in conflict management can assist as mediators.
Conflict within virtual teams is inevitable, but managers can take proactive steps to resolve issues swiftly and constructively. Maintaining open communication, establishing clear work processes, promptly addressing problems, focusing on strengths, and utilizing mediators are key conflict prevention and management tactics. With the right approach, leaders can still build cohesive and collaborative remote teams.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why is conflict more common in virtual teams?
Conflict can fester more easily in virtual teams because there is less in-person interaction. Without face-to-face contact, it’s easier for misunderstandings and miscommunications to occur. Team members may also feel more distant and be less invested in resolving issues.
Should I get involved in conflict between two employees?
As a manager, it is your job to get involved and facilitate a resolution. Letting conflict simmer will only make the situation worse. Have an open discussion where both employees can express their viewpoints, then work together on a compromise.
What if a serious conflict cannot be resolved internally?
You may need to bring in an unbiased external mediator. They can evaluate the situation and help everyone involved see the other perspectives. In rare cases, you may have to re-organize team assignments if the conflict has damaged the working relationship beyond repair.
How can I build trust in a team after conflict?
Schedule team building exercises focused on communication and collaboration. Be transparent about resolving issues and improving relationships moving forward. Celebrate small wins and give praise when the team is working well together. Trust takes time but consistency and openness will help.