Resolving Conflict by Working with Team Toxins

By Guest Blogger Jake Calabrese

Toxins are normal and we can’t just “get rid of them.” In fact, pretending there are never toxins in a team could be viewed as a form of stonewalling. There are a number of ways to resolve conflict by working with team toxins. These not “iron-clad plans” or best practices, they are approaches to resolving conflict that ideally start before major conflict has emerged.

The four team toxins are blaming, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling.

Below I list a number of ways to work with team toxins. These are ideas that make or break our teams and relationships. I believe they make the difference between being engaged and checking-out. Many of these ideas are concepts that should be explored and examined, they are not just “steps” that you can do and check-off a list. Some are simpler than others, but all require a level of commitment and effort to dig into and learn from and about.

Ways to resolve conflict by working with team toxins:

  1. ​Educate the team — a team that understands what toxins are, that they are normal, and that they have value to the people exhibiting them — is a team that is able to continue to improve and thrive. Realize that in a situation that is very toxic, you may need to take this step quite lightly. Remember that toxins are providing some level of value — so attempting to just “educate them away” may cause the opposite or an unexpected results.
  2. Create a Conflict Protocol to deal with toxins — how will each individual deal with them when they come up? What can you count on from each other to deal with them? Are team members capable to naming toxins as they come up?
  3. Check-in with and update (as needed) your Team Alliance each time toxins occur. Continuing to expand your Team Alliance is an important to learning, growing, and improving the teams relationship — and capabilities to deal with toxins.
  4. Hire a coach to help the team build an Team Alliance, Conflict Protocol, and educate the team. This may not be needed in every situation, but certainly if you are feeling like you are not sure how to address the issues or if you believe you may be contributing to the toxic situation, find a coach to work with. Often, an external person can help the team breakthrough to the next level because they are not involved in the day to day (and have training and experience in that type of work).
  5. Bring in a Team Toxins Workshop. This workshop allows everyone on the team or group to experience toxins, what they are like, identify their preferred toxin, and to explore antidotes for each toxin. Working with team toxins provides the opportunity to experience toxins (interactively) in a way that allows you to explore and learn sets the stage for the team to thrive.
  6. Name the toxin when it occurs. This requires a strong Team Alliance, but it is where teams should be moving if they want to truly be great!

Read the rest of the article.

Jake Calabrese is a coach, trainer, and coach-consultant working to improve Agile practices, address cultural challenges, and move teams and leaders to go beyond yesterday’s best practices to better practices. Jake uses ideas from various areas of thinking such as: Lean, professional coaching, facilitation, Agile, Scrum, and real Agile analysis. He has unique expertise as an Organization & Relationship Systems Certified Coach (ORSCC) and as a coach for Agile adoptions beyond software development which he brings to each client engagement.

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