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  • Writer's pictureLinac Learning

The Conflict Traffic Light System

Conflicts happen in every workplace no matter the size or industry, and whilst they can often start because of a simple disagreement, they can lead to actions that impact overall business productivity and result in silos, with teams operating independently and restricting the free flow of information.

The knock-on effect of this on culture, employee sickness and profits may be more than you think.

There can be many causes of conflicts within a team and as a manager or leader it’s useful to stay one step ahead, continually reviewing the potential causes of conflict and analysing current state.

According to Acas, in the UK, an average of 485,800 employees resign each year as a result of work conflicts. 874,000 employees are estimated to take sickness absence each year as a result of conflict, at an estimated cost to their organisations of £2.2 billion.

Common Causes Of Workplace Conflict

Communication breakdown

Many workplace conflicts arise due to a breakdown in communication. To avoid workplace conflicts from arising, be crystal clear in your communication to avoid leaving team members second guessing or making assumptions. We know that communication is both verbal and non-verbal so take time to look for non-verbal behaviours too and think about the different communication styles of the team when communicating.

Unchecked behaviours

Certain habits and behaviours can have a negative impact on your team if left unchecked, so it’s important to set the scene for what is and isn’t acceptable. Making sure that all the team are clear on the business values and behaviours and that they are visible for all to see through something like a Team Charter and not out of sight and out of mind, is key to ensuring that everyone is working towards the same big picture. Habits such as being distracted, late for meetings, missing deadlines can occur occasionally due to life’s challenges but if left unchecked they can cause irritation and resentment within the wider team.

Unclear role & responsibilities

If you have a team member that’s new in role it can sometimes be unclear where their responsibilities start and stop, as there are sometimes unwritten tasks that have been taken on by previous role incumbents. To ensure success in all areas be clear about any “non-negotiable activities” that your team members need to perform to be successful at their jobs. Even if a team member's focus and tasks change be clear as to why and what's expected.

Conflict Traffic Light System

A quick an easy way to stay on top of potential conflicts is to regularly work through a conflict traffic light system.


Green all ok

Amber at risk and requires preventative action

Red critical and needs remedial action

Below is listed a few areas that are known to cause conflict sometimes. But make a list of all the potential areas of conflict within your team and colour code them accordingly to understand what action you can take.

  • Competing goals G A R

  • Misunderstanding of role and responsibilities G A R

  • Interdependence G A R

  • Feedback mechanism G A R

  • Performance review process G A R

  • Conflict of interest G A R

  • Lack of knowledge G A R

  • Blame Culture G A R

  • Personality clash G A R

  • Lack of communication G A R

  • Interdependence G A R


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