The COA And Resolving Team Conflict


An unfortunate part of being a team leader is having to mitigate conflicts between the members of the group.

Conflicts can arise for any number of reasons, though most workplace problems start with a preference gap. Perhaps a misunderstanding occurs when a high-context communicator tries to convey a point to her low-context teammate, who does not get the message. Maybe a control-oriented team member becomes fed up with his constraint-oriented colleague not wanting to tackle a problem head-on. Or perhaps an individualistic team member is trying to finish a project on her own without consulting her collectivistic teammates. These situations and similar ones can be resolved – indeed, prevented – with the active management of a team leader who understands the Cultural Orientations Approach.

The best time to start preventing and managing conflicts is when the team first forms. Leaders should ask their team members to take their Cultural Orientations Indicator (COI) assessments. Each team member’s individual COI report gives them a listing of their personal cultural preferences, and provides insight into how those preferences impact their own work and the work of their teammates. After all the team members take their assessments, the leader can run a team gap analysis, which aggregates the cultural preferences from each member’s COI and pinpoints gaps that can occur when any of them have opposing preferences.

Another tool to help team leaders avoid conflict, or deal with it after it occurs, is the principle of the key cultural skills – due diligence, style switching and cultural dialogue. Team members can use these skills to learn about their colleagues’ cultural preferences (due diligence), temporarily switch their behaviors to accommodate their colleagues’ work styles (style switching), and discuss preference gaps that may create long-term sticking points (cultural dialogue).

Whereas conflicts can occur on any team, the Cultural Orientations Approach – specifically the COI, team gap analyses and the principle of the key cultural skills – gives team leaders the tools they need to prevent conflicts and effectively deal with them if they do arise.

Ila Gandhi