Ask the "Five Whys" to Manage Conflict Resolution

In order to produce the best possible work, leaders must reserve time for their teams to discuss what issues are affecting employee morale, performance, and motivation. This simple exercise will help improve team building and conflict resolution by digging into—and resolving—underlying issues.

Resolve Team Conflicts by Asking Why Five Times

  1. Do your homework. Before the meeting, gather tension points with your team and consolidate them into themes. See our post on Culture Cards to learn how to elicit these themes.Culture Cards to learn how to elicit these themes.
  2. Discuss the issues. Gather the whole team together and present the Culture Cards. Allow 15 minutes for people to openly react to these themes. You should encourage the group to pick up, prioritize, and even edit the culture theme cards.
  3. Divide and inquire. Divide the team into groups and assign one theme to each—for instance, "Unproductive Meetings." Then have each group ask and answer the first why. In this case, the answer to “Why does our team have unproductive meetings?” might be “Our meetings are all discussion and no decisions.” Record these answers on large post-it pads.
  4. Repeat to find the root cause. Follow up each response with another why, until you've asked "why" another four times. For example:
    1. "Why is it difficult to make decisions in our meetings?” Stakeholders with decision making power skip meetings.
    2. "Why aren't stakeholders showing up to meetings?" Stakeholders already run from meeting to meeting, and they're often double-booked.
    3. "Why are stakeholders spending so much time in meetings?" Because teams aren't empowered to make decisions on their own.
    4. "Why do teams feel disempowered?" A process was created a long time ago to prevent half-baked work from being shipped, but now it's just slowing us down. We need a new decision making model.
  5. Present findings to the team. Once everyone has had the chance to ask their "Five Whys", the team should come back together to share their findings, walking the team through their thinking and the root causes of the tension. While this is occurring, the scribe should capture the cultural themes, root causes, and comments from other team members.
  6. Prioritize the issues. In closing, the team should spend five minutes noting which cultural themes feel the most severe to the group.
  7. Assign owners. Ask team members who will be responsible for "owning" the project and working towards a solution. Make it clear that ownership doesn't mean they have to do all the work; they're just responsible for making sure the work gets done. Also, give people the option to switch to different issues if they feel more passionate about one in particular, but make sure you have roughly the same amount of people owning each issue.

Takeaway: In addition to better collaboration, this meeting sets the tone for honest and candid feedback, encouraging team members to voice what they need from one another.

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