One of the most important skills of conflict competence is understanding and making use of the difference between task and process.
We will continue to make use of the team meeting in an imaginary organization first introduced two weeks ago. Stephanie had begun to comment on a product concept. Fred cut her off and launched into an attack against the quality and timing of her input. As explained last week such a dispute can be managed by noting the change of topic, then ensuring that the team discusses both topics.
But, there is more to this. One of the topics is a task and the other is a process. Recognize the difference and you gain greater constructive power in a group.
The product concept is what the team is talking about. Giving and receiving input are part of how its members interact over what is talked about. Task encompasses the team’s roles and responsibilities; process is how it carries them out.
Task tends to be the focus of attention. Process is often neglected as a topic of conversation. But good processes are what make a team effective. Tasks are like the part of an iceberg above water that is visible and explicit, whereas processes are like the nine tenths of the iceberg that are invisible and underwater.
In the context of communication, process includes meeting procedures, interaction between participants, non-verbal emotional communication, and the quality of relationships. Mediators are process experts. And, you can become more effective as a team lead or member by taking a page from a mediator’s notebook and attending more to process.
Working with process involves bringing into focus and into conversation what is not in focus. It can involve naming the elephant in the room. If your team lead is not very process aware, it will likely benefit you and the your team if you raise important process issues that you notice.
1) Noticing is the first step. Fundamental to being more process effective is to allot some of your concentration to how members on your team are interacting. How focused and productive is the conversation? How could it be improved? Are people mostly supporting or criticizing other’s ideas? Whose ideas get more consideration and whose get less? How excited, enthusiastic, or distracted are participants? How open and vulnerable are team members?
2) Bringing what you notice into conversation is the second step. You describe what you notice and ask others for their input: “I am not feeling or sensing much enthusiasm, and am concerned about how productive we will be on this initiative. What do the rest of you think?”
Next week I will break down process into five components that will empower you to be even more effective in supporting group functioning. Until then trying noticing more about how your team, or any group you are in, goes about its communication and other functions. When you see a process element that could be improved, find a way to talk about it and see where your efforts take the team. And then let me know how it goes.