Leaders often worry about conflict arising in their team as they are concerned this will weaken performance, particularly in a small business setting.
But in a volatile and fast-changing environment, an absence of conflict is a stronger indicator of sub-standard collaboration and teamwork, according to psychologist and author of Think One Team, Graham Winter.
“You don’t eliminate unhealthy conflict by shutting it down,” says Winter. Instead you need to replace it with a healthy creative tension, which will lead to breakthroughs rather than create barriers and boundaries, he says.
Doing so means manipulating disagreement to everyone’s advantage, nurturing debate and carefully managing emotions.
Create waves of conflict
“Conflict in a high-performance environment is essential as it assists people with learning their way through challenges and issues together,” says Winter. “The best teams create a one-team culture where anything can be raised and discussed constructively.”
Three ways to tap into creative conflict
“When you watch the most nimble and effective leadership teams, you see that they align quickly not perfectly; they collaborate openly and learn from successes and setbacks,” says Winter.
Here are three practical ways to embed this align-collaborate-learn loop into your business and tap into creative conflict:
Tip #1 Use the 90-day performance alignment for direction
Give your team a simple framework to define their direction and priorities. What problems can you identify that can be improved? Are meetings poorly organised? Is there a lack of focus? Communicate a 90-day strategy and you’ll see more nimble and connected teams forming.
Tip #2 Instil a shared approach to encourage collaborative problem-solving
Avoid treating problem-solving as a process-improvement issue. It’s more constructive to make everyone a problem solver by setting a simple, shared language and toolkit. Invest in a one-team approach to problem-solving so that everyone feels accountable for their decisions.
Tip #3 Drive the debrief-learn-adapt rhythm to encourage accountability
Get someone to train your team to establish an operating rhythm that incorporates monthly action debriefing of your 90-day plan. When debriefing is a core capability, the fear of conflict will disappear only to be replaced by enjoyment of feedback and learning, and a sense that each person is an important contributor.