“Most businesses don’t fail because they had a lousy idea; most of them fail because they couldn’t execute. The most common reason a company doesn’t execute is because employees couldn’t work together cohesively to make it happen. Unresolved conflict does not go away.” David Roth
‘Positive’ and ‘conflict’ for most people do not go hand in hand, but it might surprise you to know that positive conflict is an essential trait of high-performance teams (HPTs). But be warned, positive conflict does not give free rein to just sit there and continuously disagree with colleagues or refuse to back down on certain decision. Neither does positive conflict relate to the day-to-day practicalities of sharing office space with others, i.e. fish lunches in small kitchens at work, slurping hot drinks at the desk, taking other people’s mugs, and other seemingly minor issues which can aggravate co-workers.
Instead, positive conflict is used by HPTs to bring about creative solutions to task-related problems. But this is no easy feat. It involves a number of steps:
The first step is to set about creating a culture of mutual respect and trust. Define certain ‘rules of engagement’ and spell out what behavior is acceptable and unacceptable and what are the consequences of breaking the rules. Ultimately, there needs to be an environment of trust where conflict leads to creativity.
2. Teams and different personalities
Acknowledge that teams are made up of people with different personalities and that this is a good thing. People will have their own way of approaching tasks, working with other people, solving problems and communicating. More often than not, conflict will be inevitable, but in HPTs this is seen as something to be embraced and not something to shy away from.
3. Creating trust
Imagine a team of people who are all incredibly passionate about a new project, but all with different personalities and they all believe that their position and view is the one and only correct opinion. Then add some of the key characteristics of HPTs: shared leadership, shared decision making and high monetary rewards. This could quickly become a recipe for disaster.
Mike Myatt in his article ‘8 tips for leading those who don’t want to follow’ says, “Most people don’t have to agree with you 100% of the time, but they do need to trust you 100% of the time”. Ultimately strong facts help to develop trust over time, and they keep debate and disagreement focused on the task and steer debate away from personal attacks.
4. Must I always win?
Is everything argument a win/lose situation and do we always need to be the winner? If someone doesn’t agree with me then are they always against me? When we think rationally we know that whatever is best for the business is the right path.
Mike Myatt says, “Respecting the right to differ while being productive is a concept that all successful executives and entrepreneurs master.”
5. We are all mind-readers..aren’t we?
How many times have we believed that we knew exactly what the other person was thinking when in fact we weren’t even close? The truth is unless team members are comfortable saying “I’m not too sure what you mean” there could a world of confusion brewing up.
If there is an environment of trust and mutual respect, this allows for the removal of barriers and better communication. Remember, all members of a HPT (and not a manager) are responsible for all decisions, and so the onus is on team members to question all decisions and to engage in a constructive and solution focused debate.
High–performance teams shoulder a lot of responsibility and pressure, but they see conflict as something to be embraced and not to be avoided. When there are agreed ‘rules of engagement’ and mutual trust and respect, conflict can lead to creative and innovative solutions.