From Team Discord to Unity: 3-Step Expert Approach

Managing teams can be challenging as a leader, especially when dealing with “hot topics” (arguments, personal attacks, avoidance, and emotions taking over). These issues generate strong emotional reactions and beliefs and can lead to conflict within your team. According to Amy Edmondson’s article, “Too Hot to Handle? How to Manage Relationship Conflict,” teams perform well with task conflict but need a different approach for hot topics about relationship conflict. This blog post will explore team discord to unity: a 3-step approach to managing teams effectively.

How to manage hot topics?

Notice and Name Hot Topics

These are issues that are emotionally charged and may involve differing values, belief systems, or interests. When a hot topic arises, it’s important to acknowledge and address it, while creating a safe space for all team members to share their perspectives. Encourage open communication without judgment or criticism and actively listen and perceptive-take. This helps establish trust and respect within the team, leading to better decision-making.

Identifying Each Team Member’s Interest and Motivation

According to Amy Edmondson, “hot topics” often arise from conflicting interests or values, so it’s important to understand each person’s perspective. This can be achieved through engaging inquiry and clarification, where team members ask questions to understand each other’s perspectives better. By doing this, team members can reach a deeper level of understanding and find common ground.

Once team members have shared their perspectives and interests, it’s important to establish a framework for decision-making. This framework should consider all viewpoints and interests and aim to find a solution that benefits the team. This can be achieved through various methods, such as brainstorming, consensus-building, or compromise. The important thing is to be inclusive and involve all team members in the decision-making process, and ensure that everyone feels heard.

A professional coach may sometimes be necessary to help manage teams’ hot topics. This person can facilitate open communication, identify areas of common ground, and help the team arrive at a mutually beneficial solution. Choosing a professional coach who is unbiased and skilled in managing conflict is important.

A 3-step expert approach for managing teams effectively?

1.Manage Self:

Learn to manage your own reactions and emotions, think, and respond versus reacting. Reflecting and reframing help build a cooling system that interrupts emotional hijacking and assists you stay calm and rational to think and reason more clearly during friction. A wise mind notices and names emotions and thinks rationally and analytically about situations versus having a knee-jerk emotional mind reaction.

2. Manage Conversations:

Use reactions to influence and have more effective conversations. Teams cool down conflicts by openly exploring tough topics, actively listening, asking curious, open-ended questions, acknowledging emotional reactions, and perspective-taking. Effective teams address substantive conflicts without stifling dissent or avoiding important topics. This helps them make informed decisions and build stronger relationships.

3. Manage Relationships:

Focus on building trust, getting to know each other, connecting with your team, becoming aware of each other’s strengths, weaknesses, goals, and concerns, and improving your interactions to foster team bonds. For trust, be open and stick to your word, and invest in key relationships. Lastly, observing and mapping interaction patterns can shed light on unproductive and ineffective dynamics and help reframe roles in conflicts.


Managing hot topics in management teams requires a different approach than task conflict. It involves creating a safe space for open communication, understanding each team member’s interests and motivations, establishing a framework for decision-making, and sometimes bringing in an outside professional coach. Use the 3-step expert approach of managing self, conversations, and relationships. By effectively managing hot topics, leaders can ensure that their team works cohesively and arrives at mutually beneficial solutions. So next time a hot topic arises, remember these steps and approach it with an open mind and a willingness to listen to all perspectives.

Source: Edmondson, A. C., & McLain Smith, D. (2006). Too Hot To Handle? How to Manage Relationship Conflict. California Management Review, 49(1).

Recommended Reading:

How to Avoid Virtual Miscommunication by Keith Ferrazzi

How Virtual Teams Can Create Human Connections Despite Distance by Keith Ferrazzi 

How Successful Virtual Teams Collaborate by Keith Ferrazzi

Meet Jodie, your Culture & Transformation Captain. With over twenty years helping people change, facilitating team discussions, building cultures, designing, implementing and teaching classes, your organization is in good hands.