Jeff Gorman | President
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Somehow a team in ‘conflict’ and a team of ‘conflict avoiders’ both default to a negative connotation in many minds. It is ironic that the presence of conflict and the avoidance of conflict are both viewed as troublesome traits. It is not feasible that having and not having something are both bad outcomes.
From the perspective of leading a team, I am confident the presence of ‘conflict’ is an ingredient of a healthy environment. Healthy, growing teams need to have people who excel at leaning into opportunities beyond the comfort zone of the team. That innate hunger to do something new or something better, attached to a sense of urgency, creates an opportunity for seeds of innovation to grow. At the same time, teams need people who lean equally against perpetual change in favor of continued excellence, resiliency, and balance. A team always pursuing new ideas never gets excellent at delivering upon any of their ideas; these people who lean against perpetual change create an environment where focus drives productivity.
Conflict inherently comes as the team balances the views of people who excel at promoting ‘new’ ideas and people who excel at accurately identifying flawed ideas. Because not every innovative idea is worthy of continued growth, and correspondingly not every new idea is counterproductive, balancing conflict within the team by building comfort with healthy conflict upon a foundation of trust becomes a critical element for teams who strive for continuous improvement. Trust becomes the key element upon which conflict gets sorted between healthy and unhealthy. When members of a team trust each other, there is comfort to be able to promote something unique or to push back against poorly developed unique ideas. Team members who trust each other can constructively have conflict in a manner which does not fracture the team. It makes the team a place where success grows from diverse ideas and skills.
When members of a team trust each other, there is comfort to be able to promote something unique or to push back against poorly developed unique ideas. Team members who trust each other can constructively have conflict in a manner which does not fracture the team.
Conflict avoidance, on the other hand, is far less likely to be a productive quality within a team. While there are certainly times where the avoidance of unhealthy conflict is a proper response, the complete avoidance of all conflict robs teams of the types of productive discussions and critical thinking upon which growth and innovation are reliant. When team members have not established trust among each other, or when they have evidence trust is not an important element of the culture, conflict-avoidance will consistently suppress diverse ideas and growth.
If your team is stagnant and there has been no energy and debate about process and new ideas, reflect on whether the team has enough trust internally to be comfortable with healthy conflict. A foundation of trust is the most critical element of a functional team. Once trust is established, the process of getting team members comfortable with healthy and respectful debate may be just the path needed to get members re-engaged and energized by provoking some healthy conflict.