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Resolving workplace conflict: Lessons from ‘Remember the Titans’

, November 30, 2012, 0 Comments

Workplace conflict between teams, or individuals are sometimes unavoidable and it now becomes a leader’s responsibility to recognize the reasons for this conflict which could range from personality clashes to resistance to change introduced by management.Then, these conflicts have to be managed and resolved for a better work environment and therefore better work performance.Last week, we discussed workplace conflict and recognizing various personalities (including yourself) at your workplace. We also discussed approaches to conflict resolution, including ‘knowing yourself, ‘knowing others’ and ‘communication’.This week, we discuss the consequences of workplace conflict and look at what we can learn from Coach Herman Boone.[i]

The movie ‘Remember the Titans’ is a true story of an African-American coach (played by Denzel Washington) who is brought into coach a high school football team, which struggles with racial integration issues, clashes within the team and a reluctance to accept a new African- American team coach.

What has the movie got to do with the workplace? Everything. Our workplace is often like a football field where emotions run high, differences of opinion do occur, we can’t stand some of our colleagues and team conflict surfaces

When a team conflict arises, there is a dip in team morale and motivation to continue working for optimum performance. This is a dire consequence of team conflict. Then the leader has to step in and make things right. How can team conflicts be resolved? How can teams be motivated?

Using the backdrop of ‘knowing yourself’, ‘know others’ and ‘communication’, I present here some lessons from ‘Remember the Titans’ towards resolving workplace conflict:

    • Coach Boone knows himself very well, his capabilities and the challenges ahead of him. He has a clear vision and purpose and builds commitment and drive among his players to strive towards goal achievement.He has a single purpose, is focused and always has his eyes on the ball! That’s what leaders do – Deliver and help deliver. Leaving conflicts aside, a leader must constantly remind team members of the bigger picture and to rise above issues.


    • When there is hostility between the white and black players, Coach Boone pairs up the players who don’t see eye to eye and asks them to learn from each other. The coach is a disciplinarian and pushes his team hard. As a leader, it may not be your personality to push and discipline, but what can be learnt is that differences make life interesting, there is much to share and learn. A leader must realize this and promote a learning environment. If you know your team personalities, the right people in the team can work together.


  • Coach Boone uses communication to increase team awareness of the common purpose, influence the team members and transform the final outcome. The coach’s tone and body language are not only in tune with football culture, but also clearly articulates the need of the hour i.e. To racially integrate and achieve high performance.
    While his style may not be suitable to your industry or workplace, the take away lesson is that a leader must use ‘rational persuasion’ in his/her communication. The leader must use logical arguments, factual evidence, appeal and explain. If you want to know more about the art of persuasion, read this book ‘The Gentle Art of Persuasion’ by Chester Porter QC.[ii]

All leaders must understand themselves, understand the individuals that make up their team, and use communication as the bridge to solve workplace tension

I got these lessons from the movie. Did you gather more lessons? Do you know of any other movie or event, with a lesson?