Overcoming Team Conflict

I love this article for two reasons, neither of which have to do with content – it was inspired by a walk I took with two of my Very Favorite Women in the Whole Wide World, Jodi and Lu (and a few of our favorite kids and dogs), and it was my first article in print.

Grown-ups (left to right):  Lu and me, Jodi is taking the picture!

Dogs (clockwise from left):  Oscar, Ebony, Taco, Noodle, Max)

I had a disclaimer in the original article draft about how this was about team conflict, not dog behavior – and it is.  I spend my days with dogs but am not a trainer or behaviorist!  So I try to keep the interpretation to a minimum and just use it as an example of a group interacting in a healthy way!

Overcoming Team Conflict

Shawn Finch, DVM

I am about to anthropomorphize, but go with me on this.  Is there a simpler word for ascribing human traits to nonhumans to explain a concept?

A few months ago, my two friends and I took our three kids and five dogs for a walk together.  Some of these dogs were friends, some were housemates and some had never met, but all five had never been in the same place at the same time, and all had strong and distinct personalities.

My dogs are Ebony the Labrador mix and Noodle the Poodle.  Ebony is fine with any dog.  Noodle is afraid of many dogs and will growl if he feels threatened.

Jodi brought Taco, the huge Belgian Malinois, an incredible dog who has phobia issues like Noodle’s.

Lu had Oscar, the kind Greyhound-Lab, and Max, the Pit Bull, who is as strong and bullheaded as he is sweet.

We took them on a two-mile walk around the neighborhood.  We lat the dogs play together afterwards while the people visited.  They interacted as if they had been friends since puppyhood.

Let’s talk about how this relates to team conflict.  Here is where anthropomorphism comes in.  We are not, of course, the same species, but I think we can learn much from our dog friends.

I believe the key to the dogs getting along well is that they were all traveling in the same direction with a common goal and strong leadership.  For the first hour of their first group gathering, they were walking together in a straight line.  They were sniffing the same poles.  They were crossing the same streets.  They all love walks and believe very strongly in them.  They did not have the time or lack of focus to worry about any differences that may have distracted them from their goal of walking.

There are several significant factors that could cause or heighten conflict within a veterinary team (or group of dogs on a walk), such as personality differences, varying temperaments, unique preferences and a variety of goals and priorities outside our careers (or walk).  I believe that trying to negate or minimize these differences is not a healthy or effective way to avoid conflict.

Rather, minimizing conflict comes down to getting all of us moving in the same direction and involved in a common goal.  Our overarching goal is to protect and restore the health of pets.

If we can focus on that, we should be able to do what it takes to work with each other, our clients and patients to achieve it.  Our differences can then become assets, instead of distractions.

With strong leadership, we can then come together and lead associates through the day-to-day achievement of our goals.  Gently lead your associates on a path you know is best for them and for the team as a whole.

Oh!  I thought of another word for anthropomorphism:  fable.  But this is a true story, really it is.

This was first published in Banfield – Achieving Success in Practice and Life, September/October 2009.

Tags: , , ,

Leave a Reply