Managing conflict in virtual teams – here’s what you need to know

| 24 September 2021

I am sharing this with you with permission from The Oxford Review.

A new (2020) study looking at conflict in virtual teams has found that virtual teams, when compared to normal physical teams, are more prone to ‘team fault lines’, or divisions between team members based on their different attributes such as nationality, background et cetera.

The study found that by engaging in online affect management**, team leaders can significantly reduce the negative impacts of team fault lines and can increase team collaboration, performance, and resilience. Additionally, the study found that:

✅ Virtual team resilience is enhanced when individuals feel that they can express their true feelings.

✅ Virtual team resilience is largely based on the individual team members’ being able to engage in emotion regulation techniques and manage their own emotions in a constructive manner.

✅ Suppressing emotional responses has a negative impact on both the team members and on team resilience.

✅ Collective positive emotions about the team are a critical predictor of virtual team resilience. Therefore, any intervention to deal with virtual team conflict needs to be based on the following elements:

💚 Creating a safe space whereby team members genuinely feel able to express their emotions

😠 Expressions of emotions (such as frustration, anger, et cetera) being dealt with constructively.

🌞 There is a focus on building a positive group climate.

Additionally, these three steps need to be implemented before a team engages in more robust voicing of opinions and feedback.

It is imperative that leaders and managers of virtual teams think about team resilience as part of their affect management responsibilities.

The study also found that having a practical online affect management** intervention protocol both builds team resilience and significantly helps to reduce relationship conflict across virtual teams.

**Affect management refers to the process of managing team members’ emotions, moods, and reactions through a variety of emotion regulation techniques.

​P.S. If this feels like a mountain to climb, particularly as we move into different ways of working, please contact me. I have some tools that can help you. (Both free and paid for).

And if this is resonating, take a look at the article  on managing silos.