When Team Relationships take a Dive

by Chris Bocutt
Posted on 1st March 2005

Disputes and conflicts between individuals and groups, in organisations or in private, Christian as well as secular, are all too frequent. Left to take their course, minor differences can become acrimonious, and may lead to painful partings of the ways for those involved. The cost of not dealing properly with differences can be excessive, even if it doesn't appear on the balance sheet. What price do you put on diverting essential staff from the primary task of your organisation; or the premature, and possibly permanent, loss of committed people, with their valuable experience or their prayer and financial supporters. The experience can quickly feel like a never-ending nightmare that is taking you nowhere. Mishandled conflicts have a surprisingly long memory of unresolved guilt and anger!

Part of the dilemma may be the feeling that Christians should never disagree or express anger at something that has gone wrong, when, in fact, difference is normal - a consequence of the rich diversity of creation. Those involved may find it difficult to express feelings that run counter to deeply held values and beliefs. When difference is seen as 'sin', the organisation can be blind to the signs of a growing problem until it is almost if not actually too late. Conflict over differences often arises from misunderstandings between people who have forgotten to listen to each another. Much of the heat goes out of a difficulty when the issues have been heard by all, making it possible to see new opportunities, both personal and corporate.

Disputes are mentioned in the Bible, and Jesus showed one way of handling a particular difficulty (Matt 18). But what if one has crept up unawares? 'Putting out the fire' and damage limitation may be the best that can be done; people have already been hurt and wounds inflicted in the heat of the moment are not easily forgotten. Prevention is better than cure. Add a new value to the list that underpins the way your organisation works: 'we value difference because it alerts us to hear the concerns of our fellow workers'. Managing difference calls for training in what to do when an issue arises that threatens to disrupt what you do. There is a third way, but you may have experienced that already ...... Ouch!

Chris Bocutt works for CPMS, a new organisation set up to help you turn these painful episodes into opportunities for growth and healing. The process they offer, based on the internationally-recognised Mennonite approach, is designed to meet the needs you are facing as well as giving all your people the skills to use disputes to find creative ways of responding to them. CPMS mediators tend to work exclusively with Christian organisations, eg churches and para-church, and bring an understanding of and empathy with the Christian values that secular mediators cannot match. This sensitivity brings healing to those involved in an active dispute and a confidence to bring into the open some of the unspoken attitudes that can cause so much damage.