From differences in opinion to flat out misunderstandings, conflicts with our virtual teams are inevitable. Differences in language, culture, and working styles can cause all kinds of issues. So what can we do to prevent and resolve these conflicts when they arise?
Prevention of conflict on virtual teams
First, lets talk about prevention. My favorite method for preventing misunderstandings is by creating a team agreement, a basic set of guidelines for how you want to work together. Download the team agreement template I created for Lucid Meetings to try your own.
After you’ve got your team agreement in place, remember to have regular team retrospectives. This is a way for teams to regularly reflect on how things are going. It’s important to have these retrospectives scheduled regularly and not just when things go wrong. It gives teams a regular outlet for discussing things that are on their mind that might not have room to surface otherwise.
Resolution of conflict on virtual teams
Even with the best preventative techniques, conflict will still happen. On virtual teams, much of our communication is written. One of my favorite ways of offering written constructive criticism is by using Jurgen Appelo’s Feedback Wrap. This method gives us a way to set the context, list our observations, express our emotions, and suggest ways of moving forward.
But when things start to get emotionally out of control, move away from the written word and go eface to eface. Hop on a video call and talk things through. Video helps humanize the remote work space and gives us the visual queues that help to fill in context.
When video doesn’t work, it’s time to bring in a moderator to help facilitate a productive conversation. Having someone moderate can help keep emotions in check, ensure that everyone’s voice is heard, and start progress towards a productive outcome.
Some important tips to keep in mind for virtual teams:
- Assume positive intent – it’s the number one rule on virtual teams! Because of the lack of context and the differences in language and culture, start by assuming that your virtual colleague meant the best.
- Don’t let things fester – when something is bothering you, don’t wait too long to say something. Small frustrations can build up over time, often to the point of no return.
- Don’t lash out – when emotions are running high, we can say things that are mean and hurtful. And as much as it might feel good in the moment, these words can cause permanent damage.
What methods have you used to resolve conflict on your virtual team?
thank you very much for this helpful tool. As a conflict manager for both on site and virtual teams I would like to add:
1. Whenever a virtual team has successfully gone through a process of conflict solving, the team has become more familiar with each other. This has a positive impact on performance and social climate
2. Friedrich Glasl has described the different escalation steps of conflicts. Here´s a description of them: http://www.mediate.com/articles/jordan.cfm
When conflicts are widely escalated, conflict parties may need a conciliation, where the conciliator offers concrete proposals for a solution.
Thank you for your comment Gudrun – and for your link. Very informative. And I’ve heard before that going through conflict together successfully can bond a team together. And it makes sense.
Even with all the great tips I learn through my interviews, I still personally struggle with how to handle conflict before it gets to a stage where there’s no turning back.
What are the main differences that you see between on site and virtual teams?