Five tips for managing differences and enabling effective teamwork

We’re all unique individuals in life, with different likes, dislikes and perspectives on the world. When putting a team together, having various strengths, weaknesses and areas of expertise to pull from is incredibly valuable. It provides opportunities for sharing experience and knowledge, and for each person to bring something different to the table.

As great as having such a team can be, it’s inevitable that individual differences can appear. Being able to support and help individuals work better together in these moments is essential. After all, it’s unlikely that teams are going to be performing at their best if they are in conflict every step of the way.

First, let’s look at what we mean by differences in teams before diving into 5 tips for managing them...


What are individual differences within teams?

Differences happen within teams when two or more individuals disagree, approach things in contrasting ways or simply just don’t gel well together. This is a common challenge for managers, project leads and team members across the workplace.

Examples of differences you’re likely to encounter include:

  • Incompatible communication styles
  • Personality clashes
  • Contrasting opinions
  • Inability to see other’s perspectives
  • Differing work ethics
  • Personal disagreements
  • Internal hierarchy
  • Conflict and tension
  • Lack of effective communication
  • Opposing approaches to work

Putting this in context, let’s say you set your team a task to come up with a new approach to a problem.

Team member A, let’s call them Alex, is very analytical and likes to base decisions on data and solid research. Gina, team member B, is more of a risk taker and goes with her instinct for what makes a good idea. Gina is keen to start work on her idea right away, while Alex insists that they need to gather data first to back it up. This frustrates Gina, making her worry that this will slow things down and curb creativity. Whereas Alex is thinking that Gina is impatient and wants to cut corners.

On top of this, Gina is very chatty and likes to have regular meetings to discuss everything, whereas Alex is more introverted and needs to think things through, preferring to communicate through email or instant messaging. They both have very different likes and dislikes and don’t seem to be able to find a conversation topic they can both enjoy in order to build more of a personable relationship.

Looking at this example, it’s easy to picture how differences can arise and potentially cause issues as they work through their task.

The key to overcoming this is understanding – being able to see each other’s point of view and why they might be making certain decisions or suggestions. This opens the door for better collaboration and being able to combine their strengths and abilities for a stronger outcome.

With that in mind, let’s delve further into overcoming these kinds of challenges.


How to manage differences within a team

The key to effectively managing differences is understanding why they are happening in the first place. Being able to take a step back and evaluate what’s going on is the first step to resolving problems. The more you know about the individuals that make up your team, the better prepared you’ll be to handle issues that crop up.

Here are five tips for managing personal differences at work:

  1. Give each person a chance to contribute

Sometimes it can feel like the loudest voices in meetings are the only ones that are getting their opinions heard. Making sure everyone has a way to communicate and contribute in a way that works for them is important. Encouraging a mixture of speaking out during meetings, writing down thoughts and ideas on a shared platform or problem solving during one-on-one conversations gives your team multiple avenues to collaborate.

  1. Communicate information effectively

Sometimes differences can occur due to a lack of clarity around information, or because key details have been miscommunicated. Taking the time to clearly structure and share the information that’s needed so that everyone understands what’s expected of them leaves no room for uncertainty. It’s also important to make sure this is being shared equally, so that everyone in the team feels included. Being available to answer questions for colleagues who might need more detail or context also goes a long way.

  1. Establish a common goal to work towards

Make sure everyone knows what they are aiming for and that they’re all striving for the same thing. Working towards a collective goal helps to strengthen teamwork and reduce the risk of competitiveness or personal agendas within a project. It builds a good foundation for giving recognition to each person’s contribution, and in achieving the goal you also prove the value of having succeeded as a team.

  1. Encourage open communication

Establishing a positive work culture which encourages open, constructive communication between colleagues is a great starting point for enabling teams to tackle differences before they turn into issues. Talking to each other about where they are coming from in a considerate, respectful manner allows teammates to get their differences out in the open and look for a solution, rather than letting things fester. Of course, it might take a bit of time and work to get to that point, but this will be a huge benefit in the long run.

  1. Get to know each other, and yourselves, better 

Having a deeper understanding of both your own and your teammates personalities opens the possibility for building stronger relationships and helping everyone to work together better.

A methodology like Insights Discovery gives you that unique perspective so that you can understand why you work in a certain way and how other people in the team might see and approach things differently. It’s this deeper understanding that gets underneath the surface of what makes each person in the team tick, leading the way for better teamwork and connection.

Find out more about how we can help you manage differences for effective teamwork through the language of color here