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Other interview questions that are similar
How do you resolve conflict within your team?
Tell me about a time when people on your team could not resolve their issues.
What would you do if two team members came to you with opposing ideas?
What the interviewer is looking for by asking this question
This is a leadership style question. If you are going for any sort of managerial based role you should expect some variation of this question, it is an extremely popular question.
And popular for good reason. One of the main responsibilities of a manager is to resolve any issues that their team members face and this could mean resolving issues between team members.
The interviewer is asking this question for 2 reasons. Firstly to understand how well you handle conflict and how successful you are in mediating issues between colleagues and coming up with the best solution for the business.
Secondly the interviewer is looking to hear what experience you have in conflict resolution. It is all well and good describing what you would do in a theoretical example, but the interviewer wants to know how you have reacted in a similar situation in the past.
Past behaviour is a better predictor of future behaviour after all
The best approach to answering this question
The best way to answer this question is to provide an example of when two of your direct reports were at odds over a business decision.
It is best if your example remains strictly professional – I’m sure we’ve all seen personal issues spill over into the workplace and as a manager you need to be able to handle those situations but unless specifically asked about a personal conflict keep it about business matters.
The example you provide should have both colleagues taking opposing views on the matter where it is your job to make a final decision. The most simple example to show what I mean is: colleague A wants to go with supplier A while colleague B wants to go with supplier B.
John wants to use Microsoft Excel, Jane wants to use Google Sheets
Obviously there are a multitude of other conflict types that you could talk about, but this hard and fast, either option A or option B. Putting the situation in black and white like this is a lot easier to explain in an interview. You want the interviewer to be crystal clear on what the disagreement was, what each side’s position was and you want to be able to show how your resolution was clearly the best for the business.
Talk about how you came in and used a calm, reasoned and deliberate approach when deciding which option to go with and talk about how you considered the feelings and effort input from your team members when communicating your decision.
Ultimately you need to talk about how you resolved the conflict and make sure you highlight that both parties were ultimately content with how things played out.
How NOT to answer this question
“My team has always worked well together and as such we do not have any conflicts”
Terrible answer. Every one who has managed a team will at some point have faced a conflict between team members.
The person who answers the question like this might think that they are showing the interviewer their great management skills; “my team never disagrees because I lead them so well”, but in actuality the interviewer will come away thinking that the interviewee has little or no experience with management.
Conflict happens in all businesses and it will not behoove you to pretend it doesn’t when being interviewed.
“When my team members have disagreements I leave them to sort it out amongst themselves, everyone is a grown adult and should be able to handle their own affars”
Another example of a poor answer. The whole idea of being a leader is to help your team through struggles. While sometimes it is best to allow team members the opportunity to collaborate it is not a good example to use when being interviewed.
How do you handle disagreements within your team? – Example answer
“As Product Owner at X company it was my responsibility to prioritise the backlog of tasks. The way things worked in our organisation was that any stakeholder could raise an item to add to the backlog, then as a team we would discuss in which order it would be best that they were worked and deployed.
Ultimately however the final decision on priority lay with myself.
As you can imagine with so many different areas of the business raises items, each with their own agendas and goals the backlog meetings would often end with a lot of disagreement
One such occasion we had two business areas both asking us to deploy a change to our product and both were asking for the change to be deployed in the next sprint. Unfortunately we only had the dev resource to implement the one change in this cycle.
The backlog call became heated between the two representing colleagues and I was forced to cut the meeting short to let cooler heads prevail.
After the meeting I sat with both colleagues to further understand the urgency behind both changes. Asking them to describe the benefits of the change and also the drawbacks of waiting until the next cycle.
Once I had this information in hand it was clear to me which change would be most beneficial to the business. I invited both colleagues into a meeting where I had compiled the information into a presentation deck with a few charts showing the resources available within the product team and the relative benefits of each change.
Explaining it this way allowed both colleagues to fully appreciate the restrictions that were on my team and also the comparative benefits of each change.
Both colleagues left the meeting happy with the outcome and both changes were pushed into production in the next 2 sprints”
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