Managing Innovation Generated Team Conflict

Screen Shot 2016-07-08 at 5.00.56 PMThe American real estate industry has been tracking, examining, debating and denying a wide range of innovative disruptions and transitionary forces over the past several years. By way of example, transaction management has been on the industry menu for almost twenty years and is just now about to become mainstream. Agent rating can be traced back six years and is only now preparing to take its place as an industry staple. The idea of developing and implementing superior consumer experiences is starting to gain traction after having competed with agent centricity for years. Integrating intensified agent portal participation promises to be challenging given its inherent chain of command conflicts. Perhaps most dramatic will be the management shifts and transitions that brokerages will have to integrate into their operations as a result of the new Upstream broker centric data management program. These are but a few of the internal and/or external innovations that the industry is currently preparing to incorporate.

Each of these surviving innovations and developments (as well as a score of others working their way through the system) has followed a predictable course on its way to industry acceptance. Most started with a visioning experience gained through either industry publications or any one of several industry conferences provide “coming out” events for new innovations.

Screen Shot 2016-07-08 at 5.01.51 PMAt some point these introductions blossom into discovery relationships as R & D, marketing and promotional activities and/or internal innovation programs seek out ideal candidates for beta testing, utilization and adoption phases. When the discovery programs find traction, the innovation journey moves to the design phase where specific needs and applications are addressed and resolved. It is during this phase that the future of the innovation is either sealed or rejected.

Once the process finally evolves a workable, rational and equitable model, the innovated product, process or program graduates into the development phase, the decision to ‘go with it’ having been made. With this advancement the innovation begins to enjoy the benefits of company ownership, greater funding and senior management parenting.

What began as a concept is now a reality and it is time to implement the innovation and allow it stand on its own feet. Implementation is accomplished through some combination of Alpha and Beta testing programs.

By this point the concept has evolved into a program, product or service that has been found to be relevant and appropriate to the brokerage’s overall operation. Now comes the final test. Could the innovation be successfully integrated into the brokerage’s overall operation? This is where the proverbial rubber meets the road. It is in this phase where individuals, teams and entire departments, many of which stood as silent witnesses hoping the innovation would fail earlier in the process, now sense their last opportunity to ambush the innovation before its ultimate disruption is delivered. This is where the real conflict rises up from the dissenting ranks.

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Over the next twelve to eighteen months a record number of newly innovated real estate management, consumer relations, data and outreach programs, products, technologies and processes will reach the integration phase within their parent or subscribing brokerages. In most integrating organizations there will be players, or groups of players, that, having patiently stood by during the phases outlined above, come to realize that now is the time to attack the innovation in an effort to avoid its natural disruptions. This is where team conflict rises to the surface.

Team conflict takes shape in several ways. The most common is failing to cooperate and/or collaborate in the integration process. In many cases this response is amazingly subtle, and only an executive or manager who is totally focused on the project is likely to identify it. It is at this point that the dissenters seek out their “rabbis” within the organization and call in long-standing “chits” to kill the project. This is the point where the dissenters Screen Shot 2016-07-08 at 5.05.07 PMsuddenly discover that individuals or partnering organizations with which they have enjoyed career long positive relationships have suddenly acquired unacceptable and “un-American” beliefs and philosophies. It is at this moment when longtime respected superiors are called into question because stress or personal problems seem to have negatively impacted their traditional thinking.

Team conflict also manifests itself through individual mannerisms. Body English is a popular manifestation. Negative Stereotypes suddenly emerge (“You just can’t trust those engineers you know.) Communications become cloudy and disrupted. Formerly undisclosed priorities and deadlines that conflict with those established for the innovation suddenly rise up from the calendar. Previously undisclosed “sub-budgets” appear on stage. Most destabilizing is the rise of a whole new subliminal company culture that was apparently missed over the past several years of study, planning and SWOT analysis.

Team conflict is the face of innovation and creativity, and should never surprise a competent executive. It must be anticipated and managed from the first phase.

The most common mistake made by executives attempting to overcome team conflict is the election of the “I am the boss” option. Management “cram-downs” may appear to net immediate success, but most often are simply forcing descent to a more intimate level. The classic “as long as you live in my house” approach didn’t work at home and it certainly won’t work in a real estate business environment.

Business process experts have evolved several solutions. All of them seem to have the following elements in common:

  • Transparency and open discussion are critical
  • Efforts to discover and articulate the “real” points of dissent are essential
  • Seemingly unrelated factors such as geographic location, attitudes, behaviors, personalities, attitudes about time, conflicting priorities, deadline obsessiveness, self-promotion, differing levels of aggressiveness and departmental loyalties all contribute to team conflict and must be considered when managing team conflict.
  • Even minimal cultural differences between departments, units and internal elements can give rise to team conflict.
  • In today’s more diversified work environment language and communications styles can unintentionally feed team conflict.
  • The more intimate one’s understanding becomes with respect to the dynamics of a team the more important various “states of mind” become. The levels of knowledge, skill and competency necessary to maintain the modern workplace means a wide range of mind-states are present. Each group of experts (or professionals) on the team is likely to have a different mind-state about the innovation. Even those who wholeheartedly support the project are likely to differ with respect to how they feel about it.
  • In attempting to root out the cause of team conflict one must not ignore emotions as a likely suspect. Any individual worth having on a project or a team will bring their own unique emotional pattern to the table. However annoying, they must be dealt with in an appropriate fashion.

Team conflict is most frequently the result of factors that have little or Screen Shot 2016-07-08 at 5.07.01 PMnothing to do with the innovation at hand. Frequently the innovation simply ignites a long-standing or previously formed tinderbox. Real estate brokerages integrating innovations into their culture and operations must understand that team conflict management and resolution is necessary and must be addressed at the onset and continuously throughout the project.

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