4 ways to harness the power of conflict in your team

4 ways to harness the power of conflict in your team
Lane4 Management Group Ltd.

Max Lucado, US author and minister, once said “conflict is inevitable, but combat is optional”. And, workplace teams are certainly no exception.

Just think, how often have you experienced conflict within a team at work? Research shows that approximately one in three people have had a dispute with a team member or their line manager at work.[1]

The inevitability of conflict within teams shouldn’t be surprising though; teamwork in business demands the co-operation of people who have their own personal agendas, interests, needs and preferences for ways of working. For team leaders, this means there’s often the nightmare possibility that conflict will blow up, consume people’s energy and sink team performance.

But, should conflict in a team always be something to worry about? Or is there a potential upside?

We explore 4 ways to harness conflict within your team; recognising that certain types of conflict are not only unavoidable but necessary for high performance.

1. Be explicit about the value conflict can bring

As a team leader, subtly trying to influence the level of conflict in your team won’t work. You need to be explicit in your expectations and why a degree of conflict is needed and valuable for performance. Make it clear that differences of opinion within the team are both inevitable and useful.

As a leader, state how you expect people to share their opinions, especially when they differ from the group, as this may help uncover assumptions, enlarge the pool of available information and shine a light on what matters most to those involved in certain tasks. Left buried, these differing opinions can derail a team; aired openly for consideration, the team can use put the insight to good use.

2. Back conflict ideals with role modelling

It’s no use asking people to share their opinions and reacting negatively or defensively when they do. Remember the positive intent that’s often at the core of conflict; when someone is bold enough to share a controversial opinion it often reflects a deep level of care and passion for what they do. As a leader, listen for what it is a team member is protecting or trying to improve. Aim to explore and understand, rather than resolve and answer.

3. Invest time upfront co-creating and establishing the team ground-rules

It’s common for a team to spend time clarifying its purpose but much rarer for a team to invest time explicitly discussing how people will work together and provide constructive challenge to the group. Contracting this in advance creates positive expectations and lays the foundations for building trust and clear communication. Alongside explicitly stating the value of conflict, spark a team discussion around: what would it take for people to feel able to speak without censorship? How can we disagree with each other whilst always ensuring people feel respected?

4. Pre-empt relationship conflict with personality insight

Inevitably team members will have different values and styles in the way they interact with others at work. The more self-awareness and understanding team members have of each other’s preferences and how these may differ from their own, the less likely team members will be caught off guard or misinterpret someone’s style or approach. This insight helps stimulate and structure discussion around some of the personal differences it’s easy to overlook as a team.

However, ensure team members use the insight as a reflection tool not guide to themselves. Get them to critically evaluate areas of the report they strongly agree with and recognise in themselves, as well as flag other aspects they disagree with.

To find out more about the different types of conflict and how to manage each one click here

Find out more

[1] Cascade HR (2017). Workplace conflict resolution. Retrieved from: https://www.cascadehr.co.uk/app/uploads/2017/06/Workplace-Conflict-Resolution-1.pdf

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