In his book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team – The Leadership Fable, Patrick Lencioni identifies conflict as one of the five dysfunctions that teams constantly struggle with which can lead to low employee morale, misunderstanding and a negative work environment.
He explains that although people often avoid conflict in the workplace for fear of creating problems, not all conflict is bad. Conflict can actually be beneficial within teams, and healthy conflict plays an important role in creating an open, honest and collaborative work environment.
Trust is one of the key foundations in building a positive workplace where people feel comfortable enough to let their guard down and be vulnerable with one another.
Developing trust is essential if you want employees to be honest and open about their strengths and weaknesses without fear of punishment. This is because when people are able to voice their opinions and have their ideas heard, they feel valued and part of the decision-making process.
Without trust, people may be reluctant to voice their opinions, fearing creating conflict and rocking the boat. And if people feel like they can’t disagree or offer a difference of opinion, it’s hard for new ideas and creative solutions to be explored.
However, when healthy conflict is encouraged in the workplace, it can generate new thoughts and opinions while sparking new ideas and creative solutions that might not have been considered.
Leveraging healthy conflict
When people put too much emphasis on team consensus and harmony, it creates what is known as ‘groupthink’, which happens when people are afraid to go against the majority. If there is too much co-operation and not enough healthy conflict, the best ideas and solutions may never be shared and team effectiveness is sacrificed for the sake of keeping the peace.
Encouraging healthy, solution-focused conflict helps teams avoid groupthink and allows them to make decisions based on open and honest discussions while encouraging a range of different outcomes.
People who are given the opportunity to contribute, and have their opinion heard, are more likely to buy into the final decision landed on by the group, even if that decision doesn’t align with their input. Contribution from all parties, allows for individuals to ‘disagree and commit’ which is an important skill for effective teams to learn.
Teams that are able to master the art of healthy conflict will see the benefits in both the short and long term, as honesty, vulnerability and commitment become the foundation for their team discussions and decision-making processes. It’s time we all get a little more comfortable with speaking up within our teams in a constructive manner, in the recognition that teams who disagree together, stay together.
If you are interested in working with one of our experienced consultants, we can codesign a tailored, engaging and practical team development session for your team – either together as a group, or in one of our virtual classrooms.