The whole idea of conflict is just weird. None of us really likes having to engage in it, yet most of us probably begrudgingly admit the necessity for it in business and team environments. Whether you’re the leader of a team or you’re a leader that’s a member of a leadership team, the importance of engaging in healthy conflict around ideas remains the same.
There’s a lot that could be said here, and I’d love to get into the psychology — both individual and organizational — at play here, but here are three practical tips to get you started as you look for ways to better “pick fights,” as I sometimes say.
1. Look for disagreements.
Be proactive. Be on the lookout for those moments you can tell folks are hedging or dancing. And when you find them, point them out and help each other into the fray. Sometimes groups are so used to overlooking them that they forget what a disagreement actually looks like. And if you don’t see any disagreements — like ever — you can be assured that your team hasn’t yet learned how to be vulnerable with each other. More on this below.
2. Coach in the moment. When you’re in a meeting, and you see team members retreat from an appropriate and necessary discussion, coach them in real-time. It’s almost like you’re giving them permission to enter the aforementioned fray. Help them understand that not only is it OK for them to engage in the discussion, it’s actually really important to the team that they do.
Just like anything else, this takes practice. So set up some training sessions during which team members can role play. Give them topics, and even assign them “sides” of a discussion if necessary. Then coach them through the discussion. This is a great opportunity for a group to participate, as well. Have the group observe two individuals engage in the role play, and then have a group discussion following the role play during which the others can point out what went well and what could have gone better.
4. If nothing’s working, you can almost be sure there’s a vulnerability issue.
Trust is so cliché, but being human and vulnerable as teammates is a prerequisite to being able to engage in real-deal, healthy conflict around ideas together.
As that culture begins to take hold, you’ll notice that you’ll start getting more ideas out of your team, and that your own ideas will be sharpened and enhanced (and perhaps occasionally discarded!) through honest and passionate discussion with your team. You’ll be able to move forward more confidently, knowing your ideas have been thoroughly dissected and discussed. You’ll be exposed to more creative ideas, allowing you to think outside the box regularly. All in all, the benefits of embracing this kind of passionate, creative, team culture can be substantial. Your teams will be more efficient, more engaged, more passionate, more creative, and more unified.