Ask anyone in your organization the first thing that comes to mind when they think about “conflict”, and it’s negative. This is why conflict continues to be one of the most misunderstood concepts in the workplace.
Conflict is the productive exchange of diverse ideas and opinions in a focused, efficient, unfiltered way. Teams must engage in conflict. Without conflict, decision-making suffers and relationships among team members stagnate. Worse, if conflict does not surface, it tends to degenerate to mean-spirited, back-channel comments made behind closed doors.
Redefining conflict as passionate debate is necessary to achieve resolution. Conflict generally arises when two “A Players” have distinctly different points of view over a key emotional issue. Here’s the challenge: they both think they’re right and guess what, they both can be! So now what do you do?
The 5 key options around conflict are: avoid it (we both lose); get aggressive (I win-you lose); acquiesce and give in (I lose-you win); compromise (mini win/lose for both of us) or collaborate and resolve (I win-you win).
Teams must learn to collaborate and resolve conflict. It’s about having the mindset and communication skills to work it out.
To be really good at working through team conflict, here are the 8 things you need to do:
- Introduce and acknowledge that the topic is difficult; call out that it’s a conflict.
- Watch out for artificial harmony – where people sit in silence and don’t participate.
- Have strong facilitation of the team, someone operating like an air traffic controller – controlling and guiding participation.
- Get everyone to weigh in – it’s usually only the most emotional, passionate people who speak up.
- After a timed discussion, pause to define and articulate the issue clearly.
- Brainstorm ideas and possible solutions then write them down.
- Come to a decision. This may need to be forced by the leader or facilitator, or the leader may need to take a stand to break the tie.
- Don’t strive for consensus – what we call “agree and commit”. This is fine if you can get it, but strive for “disagree and commit”. You may not agree but you must totally commit to and support the decision.
One of the most common dysfunctions on a leadership team occurs when the team leader believes they must achieve consensus for all decisions. Great teams make timely decisions around direction and priorities and move forward with complete buy-in from every member of the team, avoiding the desire for consensus.
How do you create buy-in for a decision without consensus? You learn and embrace what it means to “disagree and commit”.
Here’s how it works. You need to make the distinction between “Agreement” and “Commitment.” You can feign agreement with artificial smiles, vacant stares (what I call the silent veto), or even outright political phoniness (advocating publicly it’s a great idea while privately despising it).
With commitment, you are all-in and will support the decision to the point where you will champion it even if you initially disagreed. Your own team of direct reports will see you being supportive.
There are only 3 choices for team decision-making:
- Agreement without commitment is compliance or passive/aggressive behavior. This is a toxic.
- Agreement with commitment equals consensus – a wonderful result when you achieve it (which teams will do quite often).
- Disagree and commit when you can’t achieve consensus. It’s okay while discussing the decision to debate, question, challenge or disagree. This is healthy because adults need to “weigh-in” to “buy-in”. This option allows for passionate debate but requires, at the end of the day, all team members to be supportive and aligned.
By establishing this practice, you’ll make a huge difference in achieving your goals and will create healthy alignment for the teams you lead.
Imagine 2 Organizations…
The first is led by a leadership team whose members:
- Are open with one another
- Passionately debate important issues
- Commit to clear decisions even if they initially disagree
- Call each other out when their behaviors or performance needs correction
- Focus their attention on the collective good of the organization
The second is led by a leadership team whose members:
- Are guarded and less than honest with one another
- Hold back during difficult conversations
- Feign commitment
- Hesitate to call one another on unproductive behaviors
- Pursue their own agenda rather than those of the greater organization
What steps have you taken to build a higher performing organization where you work?
I had an opportunity today to coach and train a young middle management team at one of my Fortune 100 clients. It inspired me to ask myself, what are the qualities that leaders need to demonstrate to be a winner?
The topic was helping them develop strong and effective meeting facilitation skills and getting groups to make a decision. They came in a bit resistant, but within minutes I could see enthusiasm, desire and willingness to not only absorb the material but to connect with it, apply it and see new possibilities for introducing the skills and concepts into their organization.
I was in the company, all day, with “A Players”.
I can’t over emphasize the importance hiring and retaining A players in your organization. To do this, you must focus on finding talented people who are not only smart and capable but demonstrate the values of leading, commitment, making a difference and of learning. For me, that creates a winner.