Teams and work groups are notorious breeding grounds for interpersonal strife. Left unchecked, more assertive personalities take over – and as a result more reserved members become disengaged, apathetically watching as the team results sputter, flutter, flail, and eventually fail.

However, by taking the time to raise awareness of the potential types of team conflict, each member can recognize trouble spots and manage themselves appropriately.

Communication is a dance between message senders and receivers, with both verbal and non-verbal information creating a flowing dance of thoughts, ideas, biases, and when we’re lucky – connection. Teams are composed of people who don’t come together by choice and are mostly left to determine their own roles. Team members often are expected to iron out interpersonal issues as they arrive – all while attempting to jockey their contribution into prominence. Can you visualize how this might all go haywire?

Let’s look at a few of the common barriers and how you can overcome them.

First, a distinction. There are two types of barriers: internal and external. In other words, those that exist within ourselves, and those that exist outside of ourselves – and our direct control.

Internal Barriers

Preconceived Notions – In all walks of our lives we’re constantly being fed information from our own experiences. The more consistent our experience, the more fixed we become in our opinion. Until it feels like fact.

Individual Differences – An expansion of that bias could include people who are different from us. That could show itself as ethnic or racial differences, or those who process and make decisions differently from ourselves. At times to such extremes that you couldn’t even fathom another person’s approach.

Preoccupation – In a day and age of constant communication, not just in person but with electronics constantly involved, it can be too easy to miss important messages simply because our attention has been fractured. When we aren’t attending we’re passively miscommunicating, and we don’t know that we’ve done so until it’s too late to correct.

Correcting Internal Barriers

Simply put, we need to become aware of our predisposition to openness and attending. If we can commit to higher levels of willingness to be open to others, and we can raise our capability to “screen out” distracting thoughts and biases, we’re well on our way to more effective teamwork.

External Barriers

Distance – Perhaps the fastest growing segment of documented team conflicts can be directly attributed to real estate. Our teams simply aren’t getting together person-to-person like they used to. Even when they share a location. The gap in communication in this case is literal.

Noise & Distraction – The next time you are having a business conversation ask yourself if you are in the optimal setting. Are there noises from other employees or non-employees? Cars and equipment? Visually distracting elements like traffic? The shop floor?

Resources – It may sound simplistic, but some teams find themselves going off track because they lack the key resources. Time, money, technology, vehicles, or a share service like human resources, or marketing. Teams are often asked to “get creative” or to “do more with less” without much more direction than those words. Accepting the expectation makes the group complicit, leading to frustration and missed deadlines.

Correcting External Barriers

Luckily, once recognized, the external barriers can be remedied logically and fairly simply. The downside is that if you don’t recognize them quickly enough, they transform into much trickier internal barriers. By carefully monitoring your team members and the organizational support given them, and promoting a sense of openness, understanding, and willingness to listen you’ll immediately reap the power of a fully engaged team effort – one whose cohesive outcomes will exponentially outweigh the sum of its parts.