February 16, 2016
Dealing with Conflict on Collaborative Teams
Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. Simon and Garfunkel. The 1977 New York Yankees. Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.
What do these famous teams have in common?
Yes, they were all highly successful and rose to the top of their respective fields. Shaq and Kobe won three championships together. Simon and Garfunkel won 10 Grammy Awards. The ‘77 Yankees won the World Series in dramatic fashion. Martin and Lewis made millions of dollars in Hollywood together. But each of these teams also had something else in common. Despite their undeniable success, the members of these teams didn’t always get along. In fact, they argued, bickered, and in some cases actually came to physical blows.
There is little debate that high-functioning collaborative teams are the key cog that drives the work of a Professional Learning Community at Work™. But what actually makes a team high-functioning? Successful teams maintain an equal balance of both collegiality (the respectful relationship between those who work together in a similar capacity) and congeniality (the degree to which people get along). Let’s make a clear distinction—when we think about successful teams in education, we must measure success by their impact on student learning, not by how many team happy hours they attend together. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting you slug your teammate in the jaw with your best right hook if you disagree. I am, however, saying that there is a time and place for engaging in healthy conflict...
So, when conflict arises on a team, I recommend four simple strategies to keep in mind to facilitate communication and work through the problem:
1. Q-TIP (Quit taking it personally). Remember, your primary purpose is to ensure student learning. When students don’t learn the first time, don’t take it personally. When a teammate has had more fruitful success with his/her students, don’t take it personally. Model a spirit of inquiry with your teammates about what has worked best for them and share your collective successes.
2. Invite healthy conflict. Develop regular meeting norms for your team, and review them at the beginning of each meeting. This will help create the conditions to engage in healthy, honest exchanges that are designed to produce better outcomes for students.
3. Monitor nonverbal communication. Research indicates only 7% of what you communicate is through the words themselves. Body language and gestures send powerful messages, as do the tone, rate of speech, and volume of your voice. Pay attention to any and all nonverbal signals you may be giving.
4. Vary your approach. Is your teammate a veteran or a new teacher? Is it October or March? What have been your interactions with this colleague in the past? Consider these as well as other variables including personality, learning style, and life experience.
Certainly every school hopes to build an environment where all students succeed because people work well together and enjoy each other’s company. But personalities don’t always allow for that. So we must ensure that our teams are well grounded in their primary purpose—ensuring all students succeed. We must remind them that successful teams persevere through conflict and can actually use it as a catalyst to get better results for students. Great teammates don’t have to be great friends. Just ask Shaq and Kobe.