What would your reaction be if I told you harmony is hurting your business? That’s right, I’m saying conflict can be good for your business and you actually may need to seek it out! To paraphrase Patrick Lencioni, author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, one of the keys to results is to “mine” for conflict.
Often times we think about conflict as having a negative connotation. However it really is simply a disagreement between two or more people. It can be emotionally laden or it doesn’t have to be. If a colleague and I were going to go to lunch today and he wanted to go one place and I wanted to go someplace else that would be a conflict. Now we have a lot of choices in how we handle the conflict. I could get mad and say “If you don’t go where I want to go then I’m not going to lunch with you”, one of us could acquiesce to the desires of the other, or we could come up with a third option – maybe one we both like even better than our own initial idea.
The conflicts we encounter can be as simple as the one described above or they can be as major as disagreements in terms of the direction that a company needs to go between a Board of Directors and the CEO or differences in the way parents believe children should be raised. But regardless of the magnitude, conflict is inevitable.
Conflict is also natural. None of us have the same values, the same perspectives, the same experiences, we all see the world through different colored lenses, we all hear a different drummer and we all walk a different path. These differences in how we see the world is, in part, what leads to conflict.
Finally, conflict is necessary and if managed productively it can be good for your business. Potential is not realized in a serene environment. Often when we are trying to solve a problem, develop a new system, or map a new direction for the company there is disagreement about how to move forward. It is the discussion that comes out of the disagreement that helps us come up with new and better ways of doing things. It is also this discussion that allows people to fully commit to the final decision.
Productively managed conflict, or what Lencioni calls healthy conflict, leads to increased innovation, improved problem solving and a competitive edge.
As a leader, it is your job to ferret out artificial harmony and productively manage conflict to achieve new and better ways of doing things. This may require you to step far outside your comfort zone. It will most assuredly require you to help others step outside their comfort zone. But the outcome is worth the discomfort. And you don’t have to “wing-it”. There is a process – a formula really – for helping your team engage in issue-focused debate and discussion (the definition of productive conflict). I have used this process for years with my teams as well as with clients. It starts with recognizing that there is a conflict and being willing to allow everybody involved to express their viewpoint. If you would like to know more, you can download the entire process now at www.strategies-by-design.com/conflict.