Conflict doesn’t have to be a bad word!
Does your team never disagree? Perhaps everyone is polite and agreeable at meetings and then later on, in individual huddles, there is gossip, criticising and disillusionment.
This is what Lencioni calls “artificial harmony”. This is the appearance of a team getting along well and never arguing. Meanwhile individuals are left seething inside, feeling resentful and unheard. When team members regularly hold back, resentment builds, layer upon layer. Over time, the cumulative damage is far worse than the effects of the occasional heated discussion.
However, imagine a space however where you don’t hold back. A space where disagreements are respectful and fruitful and not scary. This is possible to achieve with teams and is in fact critical to the healthy functioning of a team.
In order for healthy conflict to occur, there must be trust. This is why the Trust layer in Lencioni’s pyramid (discussed in last weeks’ post) needs to be established first so that all other layers can emerge and develop.
Once trust is in place, here are a few exercises that can be brought into teams to allow for healthy conflict.
Draft a conflict agreement
Draw on the preferences of the team and agree on a set of norms around conflict that are written down and reviewed regularly. This creates an expectation of conflict and allows team members to prepare.
Assign a diplomatic questioner
This is where one person takes on the role of gently digging up buried conflict though careful intentional questioning. I suggest you rotate this role at meetings. Again, if there is no trust on the team, this exercise will definitely not work. If this terrifies you, you may need to revert back a step to Lencioni’s foundation layer of Trust.
Be the conflict supporter
This is where the team lead or an assigned team mate, regularly steps in and reminds everyone that healthy, respectful conflict is valuable, and that once the team’s end goal is the same, it is ok to differ in opinions along the way. This can encourage team members to keep going in a discussion and work through the potential discomfort with the conflict.
So, are you ready to take on the stigma of conflict? All of our cultural and family backgrounds have a bearing on our approaches to conflict and these are important to be aware of when embarking on this journey. However, if you get this piece of the pyramid right, you will be ready to address the next three layers of Lencioni’s pyramid: Commitment, Accountability and Results.