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3 keys to conflict resolution and healthy teamwork

| by Matthew Fretwell

He rose to his feet—the chair kicked out behind him. His faced flushed and red. His knuckles were white—his fingers spread-out and forcefully pressed on the wooden table. It was a showdown.

On the other side of the table was his “adversary.” Both men, snarling as if cast for a Hollywood shootout scene—neither buckling from his position. Both believed they were in the right.

I sat in awe. What just happened? Wasn’t this a deacon’s meeting? Indeed, it was. And the aftermath was worse. The deacon (and his family) left the church—and the pastor became bitter. 

I’ll never forget that night—for many reasons. 

If you’ve been in leadership for any length of time, you’ve witnessed conflict—maybe not this fueled with emotion, but you have. Most leaders loathe committees and meetings when there’s conflict. 

How can leaders navigate the waves of turmoil to bring calm? Here are three helpful ways to ease conflict and cultivate teamwork.

1. Ease conflict with Christ-like humility 

The hall of fame football coach, Vince Lombardi stated, “Leaders aren't born, they are made. And they are made just like anything else, through hard work. And that's the price we'll have to pay to achieve that goal or any goal.” Easing conflict is like cultivating teamwork. It’s intentional and takes hard work. 

There’s a reason why the Apostle Paul penned the words, “labors of love” (1 Thessalonians 1:3). The word labor denotes discomfort and exertion. Loving people is hard work—it’s difficult. 

As leaders, we are to seek after Christ-like humility—that, too, incurs intentionality. Conflict should always be diffused by love. Becoming angered is gasoline on a fire.

As the Proverb declares, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1). Learning to work together—as a whole—takes an intentional labor of love. It seems that most “teams” have individual trailblazers that desire to lead the excursion. But, Christ-like humility guides us throughconflict—to think less of self and more of the unified whole. 

 2. Cultivate servant-like fellowship 

There’s an old wives’ tale, “You can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your family.” The church is the only organization on earth that collects diverse ethnic, cultural and social norms, behaviors, and dysfunctions, expecting the results to be harmonious.

If you’ve grown up with siblings, you know how difficult it can be to love them—life on life isn’t easy. 

Leadership teams should intentionally cultivate a servant-like fellowship. Recently, Philip Nation was discussing his new book, Habits for Our Holiness. He described how we choose to pick up one of two washbasins in daily life: (1) the basin of servanthood, as Christ washed the disciples’ feet, or (2) the basin of judgment, as Pilate washed his hands.

To cultivate healthy teamwork and resolve conflict, leaders should strive to carry the basin of servanthood—to serve with an attitude of unity. 

Mostly, conflict occurs due to individualism, ego and pride. The “basin of servanthood” demolishes superiority and creates a sense of fellowship among team-leaders.  

 3. Cultivate a unified vision and mission

Lastly, conflict can be avoided by cultivating a unified vision and mission. 

Some leaders desire to implement their own vision and mission—without consulting others. However, when a collaboration of leaders is invited into the vision and mission process, there is an investment.

Cultivation is an intentional word. If you desire teamwork from your leadership, it begins with you. 

While the aspect of beginning with collective cooperation can avoid later conflict, it may not help ease it. But, it does allow leaders to address conflict in a soft-spoken, collective, and calm reminder of the team’s initial agreement.

Leadership dissension can be catastrophic and toxic to any organization. It is the leader’s duty to cultivate deliberate unity, by serving, loving and maintaining the focus of the vision and mission. 

Lastly, conflict should never be avoided. When it appears, face it head-on. Rely on grace and humility. Think about the big picture—the vision and mission—and weigh the costs.  

Photo source: istock 

Matthew Fretwell

Matt Fretwell is married, has three daughters, is an author, revitalization pastor, national director of operations for New Breed Network, and leadership coach. Matt holds a doctorate from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Great Commission reproducible disciple-making strategies. Matt also writes for Church Planter Magazine and interviews well-known evangelical leaders on his discipleship podcast, The Wretched & The Wrecked.

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