What to do When Your Team Doesn’t Play Nicely in the Sandbox

Michelle Riklan  |  October 27, 2016
last updated

Team Does Not Play Nicely in the Sandbox Look for ideas on what to do when your team doesn’t play nicely in the sandbox? Any time people get together, whether, at work or play, there is the potential for conflict. This “rule” is not exclusive to family outings. For teams, conflict can be a double-edged sword. In many ways, it depends on the team members’ interpersonal preferences and personality types as to how they respond to conflict. When a team or its members are not playing nice in the sandbox, that kind of behavior and activities that can damage a team’s morale and long-term success. Below are a few things to understand about why your team doesn’t play nicely in the sandbox.

So Your Team Doesn’t Play Nicely in the Sandbox…

Understanding Healthy Conflict

Healthy conflict does exist. There are some people that are going to shy away from any type of conflict or perceived adversity, so teams need to recognize who those people are and keep them engaged. Healthy conflict is when thoughts are being hashed out. When people are passionate about strategies and ideas, there is a good chance that people will get heated. The reason is that it means something to those individuals. So long as the conflict stays professional and the people involved are able to see past near-term disagreements, healthy conflict on a team is something that can lead to successful projects and initiatives.

For additional reading on this topic, you might take a look at “7 Ways to Resolve Cnflict in a Team.“.

Address Unhealthy Conflict Early

Unhealthy conflict, or when people are not playing nice in the sandbox, has the opposite effect on teams. It shuts some people down, can bring ideas and progress to a halt, and can do serious short- and long-term damage to everything good the team has going for it. One of the worst things that can happen is for people to put unnecessary negative energy into their feelings about someone else.

One of the keys is to figure out early why the conflict exists. Teams are generally made up of approximately 5 people, give or take. Has the team broken off into 2 or more factions? Who is actually not getting along, the entire team or just a couple people? This has to be found out. Sit people down individually and ask questions. If there is one person not playing nicely in the sandbox and everyone feels it, it’s not healthy to let that fester. Everyone may recognize it except the offending party. Worst yet, the offending party may know what he or she is doing and not realize how it is affecting others.

Start Digging

One of the first things to recognize when peeling back the layers is that most of the time, people in situations like this think they are right. Very rarely can one find circumstances where all the blame goes to one side or the solution is cut and dry. As a leader, you have to gather as much information as you can from team members.

Acquiring relevant information as to how people have been affected and feel about the state of the team helps identify a strategy on moving forward.

Communication is key to any relationship, and relationships at work are no exception. Different personality traits can rub people the wrong way. Certain types of conduct sometimes can grate on people’s nerves. As simple as some of these sound, miscommunication and differing communication preferences can be the source of much workplace conflict.

For additional reading on this topic, you might take a look at “How to WOrk with Difficult People.“.

Utilize Available Resources

Eventually, the situation is going to have to be addressed. There are varying degrees of comfort levels for these types of meetings. For managers and supervisors that have not dealt with many interpersonal conflicts, it can be stressful. Don’t be afraid to reach out to someone who can give advice or has been there before. This may be another manager, mentor, HR professional or organizational behavior consultant.

Depending on how deep-seated the involved parties’ conflict really is, consider mediation services. Not only does mediation allow each party to express his or her feelings, but they will come to an agreement about how to move forward working with each other. Many organizations employ or have contracts with trained mediators and facilitators. Some employee assistance programs (EAP) will offer this service as part of an EAP contract.

Another alternative that can engage the whole team is to have a workshop where everyone learns about different personality types. Leaders Institute® has a great program for creating a team culture and exercises to help blend personal development with building trust and understanding among team members.

Focus on Values

Finally, but far from least important, redirect the team’s focus back to its core values. How are the actions or behavior that is disrupting the team helping the team uphold its values? If those values are not being adhered to, how is the team working towards its mission? It’s not just a boss’s responsibility to move a team to be more productive. As an effective team, and as leaders, it’s everyone’s responsibility to make sure the sandbox is running smoothly, productively and respectfully.

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Michelle Riklan is president of Riklan Resources. She is based in the New York, NY Region. She is a specialist in corporate team development and public speaking skill classes.
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