Facilitating Success


How managers can help employees recognize and overcome conflict-based performance issues

When there is conflict amongst teams in the workplace, performance suffers.  Managers can be the first-responders during these times and work with employees as facilitators in order to identify and work through the conflict at hand.

Poorly managed conflict can be expensive for employers.  CareerBuilder reports that the average HR manager incurs more than $800,000 per year in costs from extended vacancies – these vacancies are often the result of unresolved office conflict. 45% of companies surveyed also say that extended openings hurt productivity.

Being a great facilitator takes practice.  Managers can use the following guide to build their approach, skills and confidence to successfully address conflict in the workplace


Be Clear About the Purpose of the Dialogue

Everyone in the room should clearly understand why they are there and be on the same page.  Having a whiteboard or large paper ready to record and keep track of developing ideas as a visual aid is a classic way to keep a conversation involving people in conflict on track.



Establish Ground Rules

Visual tools are also a great way to foster dialogue.  It is important for managers to recognize the difference between dialogue and debate when facilitating meetings. Active listening and being respectful are key behaviors to a successful conversation.  Asking everyone in the room to set a few ground rules and writing them up on your visual aid is a way to gently remind the people in conflict to be civil and make all of the participants feel valued from the start.  As a facilitator it will be your job to enforce these rules in a firm, but respectful manner.


Manage the Agenda 

In business, it is understood that time is money and no one wants to be stuck in an unending conversation that goes nowhere, or wanders off track. The role of a facilitator is to manage the agenda once it is set.  Some facilitators find it helpful to map the conversation visually.  Here are the some practices for recording and displaying information in a dispute resolution setting:

  • Capture key words and use their words, not yours;
  • Write big enough for everyone to read;
  • Do not write in bright colors (but highlighting can be helpful for emphasis);
  • Check the accuracy of your recording by inviting participants to give input; and be sure that everyone can see while you are writing;
  • Number items for later reference; and
  • Use a consistent format and leave wide margins for notes.


Stay Impartial

It is imperative that the manager facilitating the conversation between employees in conflict appears to be (and is) impartial.  Managers who share their experiences and beliefs about the topic at hand run the risk of losing the trust of the people involved in conversation. Instead, find ways, like asking open ended questions, to convey that you are interested in understanding THEIR experiences and ideas.  A group meeting or facilitation typically is not an appropriate place to discipline employees or discuss individual performance.


Close With a Summary

Whether the meeting has come to an end organically, or time has simply run out, do not forget to end with a summary of the conversation.  This is the perfect opportunity to talk about the next steps towards the resolution of the conflict at hand. 

Implemented well, these guidelines will help managers to prevent and address common conflicts.  When deeper issues affect performance, some find themselves lacking the time, positioning or experience to effectively resolve the issues standing in the way of better performance and satisfied employee engagement. It can be frustrating to see colleagues fight or avoid communicating over what may appear to be small issues, especially when that conflict is negatively impacting their ability to do their job and produce the great results you that you know your team is capable of.

Fortunately, there are professionals that can help.

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NVMS is a regional expert in dispute resolution and training in conflict management. Since 1990, NVMS has mediated over 14,000 disputes and trained more than 15,000 in the effective resolution of disputes in government agencies, businesses, courts, and community settings.  Certified mediators and experienced practitioners provide a range of services including facilitation, mediation, coaching, and training.  NVMS is a mission-driven 501(c)3 nonprofit organization affiliated with George Mason University.  For more information, visit www.nvms.us or call (703)865-7272.



Talent Development Magazine, Issue: June 2017 .  “Growing Skills Gap May Increase Demand for Training.” pg. 17.

David Sibbet. “Visual Meetings – How graphic sticky notes and idea mapping can transform group productivity.”  pg. 61 The Grove Consultants International, 2010

Lisa Schirch, Davic Campt. The Little Book of Dialogue for Difficult Subjects: A Practical, Hands-On Guide “ Little books of justice & peacebuilding” Skyhorse Publishing Inc, 2015