When we talk about conflict in a team, we immediately think of hate, disrespect, envy.
In reality, conflict is an important ingredient to build great teams. Unfortunately, some leaders see conflict as something to avoid and eradicate.
A few months ago, I helped a large international team to overcome some issues that have a negative impact on their business results as well as professional lives.
When we started working together online, I had individual interviews and assessments with the team members to have a better understanding of what was going on in the team that might have led to unsuccessful results.
Among other things, I realised something very interesting. Most of the team members had very little interest to spark some fire within the team. In fact, they were willing to uphold their beliefs and opinions. They were accommodating. Apparently, they thought this was a positive trait that could have helped their work.
Based on my experience, this is nothing new or surprising. Most of the teams are built on harmony.
The problem with harmony is that is often artificial. When harmony is in place, most likely it’s because team members don’t open up. They don’t say what they really think for fear of personal conflict, bad culture, lack of trust, or because they are not vulnerable enough.
On the other hand, although less frequently, I have seen teams where there was hate, competition, destructive arguments, and where the personal agenda was more important than the success of the team.
To build great teams, we need balance. We need constructive and passionate conflicts. And this happens when team members don’t back down from confrontation.
A positive conflict happens when every team member feels his contribution not just matters, but it’s pivotal for moving forward and get results. When this happens, nothing goes unsaid and each idea and opinion is heard and well taken by the team, no matter if it’s pursued.
Not surprisingly, there is no positive and passionate debate if there is no trust in place.
But in order to foster positive conflict in an organisation, leaders need to master a few things:
1. Make sure there is a high level of trust between the team members
2. Promote a culture that allows positive conflict to emerge instead of favoring harmony
3. Rewrite the rules of engagement, so conflict is accepted and become a new norm
4. Gently fan the flames in every meeting, in particular when you feel people are holding their opinions back
5. Give permission instead of suppressing conflict
In summary, positive conflict requires trust, vulnerability, great culture, and the ability for the team members to be uncomfortable in having direct and challenging discussions.
But when there is a common goal for the team and everyone is really engaged and personally vested to team results, conflict is natural, welcomed, and necessary to allow building momentum.
The best leaders don’t look for harmony and complacency. They build great teams by fostering positive and passionate conflict to get the most out of their work.