Working with a leadership team this week on team dysfunction, I’m struck by the way most people (specifically in the workplace) view conflict—arguably 8/10 have a negative perspective and would claim to avoid it. But what if the right kind of conflict delivers results? What are we missing when we don’t engage it?

Best selling author and management consultant, Patrick Lencioni, claims fear of conflict as the 2nd tier in the Five Dysfunctions of a Team, second only to trust as the foundational element required for being able to engage peers in passionate dialogue around issues and questions. When we lack the freedom to discuss or challenge issues, we leave important ideas on the table that prevent real decision-making and ultimately the kind of results we care most about.
So how do we learn to productively navigate conflict?

  1. Create an environment of trust, the type of trust where vulnerability and transparency are celebrated and team members feel the freedom to expose their opinions, weaknesses and mistakes. Not the way we’re wired in the competitive workplace, right? Certainly not a natural process for most people. But as we move from fear-based leadership to trust-based relationships, we build healthier organizations and realize the power of the talent and knowledge our teams have yet to untap.
  2. Develop a conversation with your leadership team around what productive conflict looks like in your organization.Everyone has different comfort levels with conflict, based on personality types, backgrounds and conditioning. Identify the personality profile and preferences of your team in order to establish how productive conflict looks within your own organization. Based on this collective input, set ground rules for how conversations and issues are best approached, and get buy-in from your team to set expectations for moving forward.
  3. Practice.Look for ways to bring healthy conflict into key meetings and conversations—don’t let issues lie dormant without addressing them. You will undoubtedly need to evolve expectations and rules as you learn how to practice conflict resolution within your organization. Don’t be afraid to massage the process and conflict to seek input from your team.

The experts agree—the healthiest teams and organizations practice the art of conflict, and their decisions and results take off as a result. Unresolved conflict never goes away. It simply festers and grows and manifests itself in sidebar conversations and unproductive venting sessions, ultimately diluting the integrity of an organization. The best leaders choose to deal with the short-term work in exchange for long-term gain.

What type of leader are you?


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