How to approach conflict in a factory setting

Throughout my career there has been a number of occasions when I’ve been called to advise on or respond to conflicts on the factory floor. There is nothing quite like working in a factory and it’s a very difficult environment to replicate elsewhere.

Working in a time pressured, intense environment will inevitably lead to occasions when the heat rises between colleagues, but the key is how your respond and use these occasions to develop the team, and not distract.

So, what are the main causes of conflict within teams in factories?

My engineering experience has highlighted two issues:

  • Competitiveness

Although we’re all social animals, and competition forms part of our social make up, hitting targets is a key part of the role within the engineering industry. You want to perform the best, smashing those KPIs. An engineer within a factory setting can sometimes be seen as ‘the necessary evil’ in the sense that we’re required to be on the shop floor to provide an engineering presence and support machines and processes, but we’re not production or technical staff, which can lead to team conflict which is then exasperated by the second issue, pressure.

  • Pressure

My experience has shown many people don’t like working under pressure. Working within the food industry, there is a cost implication for everything. Every action can have a financial consequence and it’s under this pressure to perform that can lead to conflict. Often conflict is about timeframes and delivering, or not as the case may be, against deadlines. You can try and avoid by under promising and over delivering against deliverable dates but unfortunately sometimes conflict is unavoidable.

What is the main impact of the conflicts?

Conflict can be a big cause of stress to an individual or team which then has a knock-on effect in terms of work performance, accountability and morale. The lack of trust is also a consequence and cause of conflict. If you feel trusted, or trust someone within the team, it puts everyone more at ease and gives you a confidence to be open and honest, rather than feeling worried or apprehensive which can lead to mistakes or not talking to your team which could have prevented a conflict erupting.

Here are my top tips for handling conflict and achieving the best outcome are:

  • Listen: There are always at least two sides to a story and their opinion is as valid as yours. You can then present your case and view both sides. However sometimes it’s better to just accept the issues raised, learn from the experience and agree to move on.
  • Trust: Conflict inevitably involves trust which can play a big part in either a positive or negative experience for those involved. Building a team around you which encourages dialogue and the confidence to speak out by being supportive and handling conflict and disagreement with a positive approach will also have a constructive impact on work performance
  • Measure: Make metrics your friend. By analysing the data, you can present that information and often the proof’s in the pudding, preventing unnecessary conflict or confusion.

If you are experiencing conflict within your factory teams and looking for support and guidance, please get in touch.

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