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How To Resolve Team Conflicts

Team conflicts can arise anytime when you are working on a team. Working with diverse people and different viewpoints can sometimes create tension. This is perfectly normal especially when everyone has their own ideas that they want to apply. This is also a great indicator that everyone in the team wants to be fully involved in the process.

Conflicts aren't necessarily a bad thing. Healthy and constructive conflict is a component of high-functioning teams. Conflicts arise from differences between people; the same differences that often make diverse teams more effective than those made up of people with similar experiences. When people with varying viewpoints, experiences, skills, and opinions are tasked with a project or challenge, the combined effort can far surpass what any group of similar individuals could achieve. Team members must be open to these differences and not let them rise into full-blown disputes.

Conflicts are an integral part of a lively dynamic and having a method to resolve them when they come up will propel your team forward faster than you can imagine. We use the Stinky Fish technique to resolve our internal team tensions and we have seen great results. In this article, we walk you through it and how you can run it for your team.



The stinky fish is a metaphor for the emotion you carry around but you don't like to talk about it and the longer you hide, the stinkier it gets. Understanding and appreciating the various viewpoints involved in the conflict are key factors of this technique.




  • The Location

Bring your team together in a spacious location and avoid rectangular tables. Create a circle with chairs and use them to hold the meeting.


  • Start with the check-in

Always encourage everyone to give a personal update on how they feel and how their week has been. This way, you are encouraging the team members to give importance to one's feelings and situation. It also allows everyone to pay attention to each other.


  • Set goal; set expectation

It is important to state the goal of the meeting in the beginning and addressing the problem right off the bat. For example “recently our team dynamic has been friction and today we’d like to address it.”


  • Introduce the Stinky Fish Exercise

The stinky fish is a metaphor for the thing you carry around but don't like to talk about; But the longer you hide the stinkier it gets. Explain the concept to everyone. We find this metaphor to be very powerful and every time that we exercise it with a team, the meaning of the metaphor weighs in and creates a common ground for everyone quickly.


  • Hand Out stickies and markers

Give stickies and markers to everyone and encourage them to draw their own fish and their thoughts on the paper. As long as 10 minutes would be enough for this exercise. Ask everyone to avoid blaming others. Just state their observation and their own feelings towards the conflict. Specifically, ask them to avoid mentioning other colleague's names in their stickies and only mind their own feelings.


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  • Show and Tell

Let everyone describe their stinky fish for five minutes. During their expression, everyone else must be silent and only listen. Everyone must have the chance to describe their stinky fish. No reaction needed whatsoever, a "Thank you" response at the end of each presentation is more than enough. This is to avoid the rising of unnecessary discussion and defeat the purpose of the activity: listening and establishing empathy with colleagues.


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  • Create a Gallery Board

Display all the stickies and let them hang till the next meeting. It will give everyone the chance to think, reflect, and understand everyone's thoughts. Time also gives people a new outlook and approach to the situation.


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  • Closing and announcing the follow-up

Thank everyone for their contribution and make sure it’s clear that the gallery board stays on the wall till the next meeting. Set up the next meeting in no longer than two weeks. Choose a Thursday or Friday where people tend to be less stressed as the weekend is approaching. And then reflect on the results.


End of part 1

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