Dealing with Conflicts


All teams and even individuals experience conflicts. Conflict is part of the normal process of team development. It can strengthen and mature a team. It can also tear a team apart. So, while it is reassuring to know that conflict is normal, it is also helpful to know what to do to help your team resolve the conflicts that arise. Some of the suggestions given here are textbook methods; many come from Odyssey of the Mind coaches who have shared their own solutions.

In the beginning…

Have the team members establish rules at one of the first meetings and make sure all agree to abide by them.

  • When we brainstorm, all ideas are accepted without criticism.
  • Everyone helps clean up.
  • If someone can’t attend a meeting, notify coach beforehand.
  • Each team member is important and has skills and talents that are important to the team.

Emphasize the importance of teamwork. There is no I in the word team. Odyssey of the Mind is a team activity. No matter how many perform on stage or compete in Spontaneous, the entire team earns the credit for what is done. It is the Team’s solution, Team’s presentation, Team’s Style, Team’s Spontaneous, and Team’s creativity.

Help each student to feel his or her worth and value to the team. Stress the importance of the unique combination of abilities and skills the team has. No matter how talented one person is, that one person cannot successfully solve the problem alone. Every team member contributes to and is critical to the team’s success.

When conflicts arise…

Send team members in conflict to a quiet spot to discuss their reasoning and to try to work out a solution on their own. Set a time limit appropriate to the conflict. Many times, they can resolve the problem on their own. Try reflective listening to make sure that you and the students involved understand what each person is thinking. Reflective listening involves paraphrasing what each student is saying to make sure that all involved are “on the same page.” The conflict may be simply a misunderstanding.


  • “In other words _________.”
  • “Do you mean that _________.”
  • “So you think it would be best to ________.”
  • “It sounds like you feel _____ because _____.”

Review all sides of a conflict by allowing each to state his/her story without interruption and without “getting ugly.” After all sides have been presented, the team brainstorms the problem to come up with a solution acceptable to all. No one is to criticize personalities or behavior, but to work for the best interests of the team.

Have team members role-play the conflict. When the point of conflict is reached, stop the action. Then, either let the other team members present suggestions and mediate a solution, or have the “actors” switch roles and try to present the opposing viewpoint before discussing possible solutions.

When conflicts seem imminent…

Often, the best conflict resolution is prevention. As the coach, you will observe situations developing which are likely to end in conflict. A well-chosen word or activity may forestall many problems. Some of these situations and solutions which have worked for other Odyssey of the Mind coaches are:

  • Bickering team members—often these are good friends who may fuss like siblings. Sometimes, all that is needed is a reminder that put-downs and bickering are counter-productive and have no place at team meetings.  
  • Non-working or unfocused team member—put the team member with one or two others working on a specific task. This will increase the importance of the student’s individual contribution and decrease the distractions. Or, end each session with a review of the team’s progress and the construction of a team created to-do list for the next meeting. When a team member isn’t working, send him/her to the to-do list to select a task. This way, there’s never “nothing to do.” If everything is done, they’ve solved the problem or it’s time to update of the list.
  • One or two team members do all the talking—Use a talking baton. Only the team member who is holding the baton may talk & others listen. The baton is passed to the next person wishing to speak pass around, getting each team member’s ideas in turn. This may encourage quiet or shy members to present ideas that would otherwise go unvoiced.
  • Team member with a “bad attitude”—If a student seems to be “out of it” or “out of sorts”, check to see if something is bothering the child about home, school, or other activities. The attitude may have nothing to do with the team.
  • Team failing to progress—If a team that has been working, stops progressing, it may be time for the team to review of the status of their solution. Maybe they’ve gone as far as they can and don’t see the next step. Maybe time to brainstorm.
  • Often, though, the team has simply grown tired of the same tasks and need a break. For some teams, a switch to Spontaneous practice may help and for others, a 15-minute game of dodge ball.