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From They To We: Addressing Conflict To Increase Bottom Line

By Dr. Tricia Groff, PhD

Active warfare.  Cold war. Incendiary argument. Stony silence. Whether it is a conflict between owner-operators and technicians, between teams of employees or between levels of management, these are not the dynamics that most companies want for optimal functioning.

I recently asked a leader, “Is there conflict between operations and sales?” He snorted and said, “There’s conflict between all of the departments. People always say ‘they’ when referring to people outside of their team. We have to figure out how to get from ‘they’ to ‘we.’”

‘They’ and ‘we’ are ‘outgroup’ vs ‘ingroup’ words. Outgroup refers to those people who we perceived as different from ourselves. It forms the basis for conflict and discrimination.

A Research Story

In 1954, researcher Muzafer Sherif*, wanted to examine group behavior in a natural setting. She separated boys at a summer camp into two teams. First, she noticed that the groups began to immediately form their own identity—their own hierarchy, rituals and rules. Secondly, she set up competitions between the groups. The groups became antagonistic toward each other. They perceived their own group as better performers, more considerate and more cooperative.  

After trying several methods of increasing positive feelings between the two groups of boys, Sherif found that engaging them in tasks that forced them to work together to achieve a common goal was the most effective method of reducing conflict. People who have played on sports teams or fought in the military understand the degree to which differences dissipate in the face of an immediate common goal.


Several years ago, I led a team development training for a company with warring factions. As I looked at the problem, I recalled Sherif’s research and knew that the most effective activities would be goal-oriented and require cooperation from all team members. Additionally, the tasks were easy, non-threatening and fun. There was also plenty of time for casual conversation.

It worked. Someone approached me afterwards and said, “Thank you for doing this. We thought they were mean and unapproachable, but they are really nice people.”

While the results of such activities can be quite positive, lasting change requires intentional, ongoing engagement to foster strong relationships through times of turn-over and change.  

Return on Investment

It can be difficult for owners to allocate time for building teams instead of focusing exclusively on selling, service and revenue-generating activities. Consider profit over the long-term when you are contemplating team-building activities for your company. Think about the efficiency gains, the effect of higher moral on customer care, reduced turn-over and the power of collective focus.


Here are some tips if you want to intentionally increase team cohesion:

  1. Ensure buy-in from the most influential leader in the company.  
  2. Identify a few key people who understand the dynamics and can identify initial strategies.
  3. Implement the strategies, obtain feedback and set up a maintenance plan that accommodates the common concerns related to time, finances and productivity.
  4. Set up objectives and follow-up measures to provide tangible evidence of the return on investment of time.

* Intergroup Conflict and Cooperation: The Robbers Cave Experiment  Muzafer Sherif, O. J. Harvey, B. Jack White, William R. Hood, Carolyn W. Sherif (1954/1961)

Dr. Tricia Groff (PhD) is a psychologist, writer and speaker. She specializes in the personal and professional development of high achievers.  Dr. Groff is passionate about the integration of dichotomies: work and joy, intellect and heart, productivity and rest, generosity and profit.

*For helpful tips and resources to market your business, visit the Certified Firm only section of the IICRC website at If you don’t have your login information, enter your Certified Firm number as your username and the last four digits of your primary business phone number on record with the IICRC as your password. Please email if you need more information.

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