A key ingredient of enduring team relationships is productive conflict. Sustaining trust within a team requires the occasional fearless, passionate exchange of alternative, sometimes contradictory, ideas.
Conflict is often considered to be offensive in organizations. As leaders progress in their careers, they tend to invest increasing amounts of energy avoiding the spirited debates that are necessary for building the most effective teams.
To be clear, productive conflict is focused on exploring ideological differences, not destructive arguments, political infighting or personal attacks. While the same levels of emotion and frustration present in interpersonal clashes may be exhibited in productive conflict, leaders ensure that their teams realize that the purpose of vigorously exchanging ideas and concepts is to produce the best solution as quickly as possible.
Promoting healthy conflict requires that leaders refrain from protecting their team members from harm; prematurely interrupting debate to defuse a disagreement inhibits the team’s development of needed coping skills. No leader wants to lose control of a team meeting, but for the conflicting dialogue to be productive, it must reach its natural resolution.
This doesn’t mean that leaders should remain above the fray. When a debate gets stuck, they can facilitate the achievement of resolution by summarizing the two sides of an argument and refocusing the discussion upon the key points to be decided. Leaders become mentors when they model appropriate productive conflict behavior. In the process, they also reveal the vulnerability and authenticity that strengthens their leadership credibility.
How often does your team engage in productive conflict?
How often do you participate in your team’s debates?