Most people agree that human relationships often require healthy conflict to grow, but somehow, in organizational and team settings, conflict has gotten a bad rap. Healthy conflict around ideas–not interpersonal, mean conflict–is critical for a team to grow, build great ideas, and bond as human beings.
However, if your team is like many, there may not be as much of this sort of healthy, robust interaction as there should be. Often this has its root in a lack of real-deal trust on your team. Here are some things that might point to a lack of healthy conflict on your team:
1. The grapevine is alive and well. When teams don’t engage each other in healthy debate around issues, and they don’t have open, honest, and kind discussions with each other when they see ideological disagreements, you can almost be assured that politics and gossip will be on the rise. You see, it’s not so much that you avoid conflict by not doing it together as a team in a productive way; it’s that you’ve just ensured that those discussions will take place in hushed tones or in dark corners. The conversations and disagreements are going to happen either way. It’s up to you and your team to determine where those discussions happen. It’s far better to engage in that healthy, ideological conflict together.
2. Members of your team have well-defined calf muscles. That would make sense given how much tip-toeing is going on, right? If your team, or specific members of it, constantly feel the need to tread lightly or not engage in open debate about issues, there’s likely a team dynamic that needs adjusting.
3. Important and/or controversial stuff doesn’t get discussed. The reason this happens is that most of the time, if a room of grown, adult humans thinks and talks about an idea, they’re going to disagree with each other in some way. In an effort to avoid this potential, temporary, minor interpersonal discomfort, sometimes teams will avoid those talks altogether.
4. Your department becomes a place ideas go to die. You can’t ask your team for ideas, but yet do everything you can to avoid conflict at the same time. The very reason you want ideas from your team is because a group of minds thinking about a problem is better than just your mind thinking about a problem. If you’re not seeing a lot of ideas, it could very well be that you’ve not created an atmosphere within which people feel comfortable entering into legitimate debate about different ideas.
5. Your meetings will suck even more than normal meetings suck. And of course they will, because no one’s talking about important stuff, no one’s passionately advocating for their ideas, and meetings just become this robotic exchange of information that some or most of the folks in the room don’t give two shekels about.
See this stuff on your team? Are you leading a team that has some of this going on? Then you probably need to work on engaging in healthy conflict together.