Every company will experience conflict of some sort and how they approach it can be defining. Most advice on managing conflict focuses on workplace scenarios, but there is much to learn from approaches outside the workplace, particularly in the realm of sport.  For this blog I looked to my personal experience as the captain of my university ultimate frisbee team.

Ultimate frisbee is a self-officiated sport. This means there is no referee or third party to call fouls or judge whether or not a point was scored. Instead, the players make the calls themselves. This is a shock to some people. How is it that the game can run smoothly? Don’t the players end up in unsolvable shouting matches? Surprisingly, ultimate players rarely face these issues. The trick is ultimate’s unique approach to conflict management – the Ultimate Approach.

Before diving into ultimate’s conflict management style, it’s important to have some background on how this little-known sport works. Ultimate frisbee is a high speed game played on a field like football or rugby. Teams of 7 players throw the frisbee to their teammates in an effort to catch it in their end-zone and score points. Players can’t run with the frisbee, and if it’s dropped or intercepted, the other team gains possession.

While on the field, all players are expected to follow the official rule book which dictates the procedures for how to handle almost any conflict that could occur in-game. All players are expected to know at least the basics of these rules. According to the rule book, calls need to be clear and made in a timely manner. In addition, it explains that for minor calls, play continues as normal, but for more significant ones, play stops. The structure and procedures the rule book provides are all useful conflict management strategies to keep in mind for the business world.

For example:

  • Having well defined procedures in place before conflict arises ensures transparency and consistency in the resolution process
  • Presenting and resolving conflicts in a timely manner keeps the details of the issue fresh and makes people feel heard
  • Giving larger scale issues the attention they deserve while still acknowledging smaller challenges assures different conflicts are properly resolved

In addition, all ultimate players are expected to abide to something called the “Spirit of the Game.” Spirit of the Game is essentially the official culture of the ultimate world. Ultimate players are expected to have mutual respect and to never sacrifice this to win a game.  When a player wants to call a foul or disagrees about whether a point was scored, they are expected to make the call calmly and with understanding of other players on the field.

Adopting ultimate’s culture of positive conflict management would benefit any company. Ultimate maintains this culture by explaining the concept of Spirit of the Game to new players and addressing players who aren’t exhibiting good Spirit. In a company, it is important to establish your goal culture and get all team members on board with your vision. If all team members subscribe to an understanding, respectful environment, conflict resolution in the company will be smoother and will become a more positive experience for those involved.