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Healthy Conflict Is Key to Growth

March 12th, 2019


As we all know, teamwork depends on, well, teamwork --working together cooperatively to achieve a common goal. That doesn't mean great teams are conflict free. The truth is, a team or a workplace without conflict is a place where innovation and change have a hard time taking root.

Amy Gallo made that point in her SXSW (South by Southwest) talk last week in Austin.

"It’s possible to be too nice, failing to disagree when we need to or to surface new ideas or innovations," says the Harvard Business Review editor. "You can’t have a diverse, inclusive, productive team without some healthy fights."

The important word there is "healthy." Too many of us -- almost one in three workers -- have witnessed disagreements devolve into personal attacks. When that happens, teamwork falls apart and the bad feelings can lead to project delays, even failure, as well as the loss of talented people.

Because conflict is inevitable, keeping it professional should be the first goal. Here's where managers and team leaders need to manage the disagreement. Acting as a mediator, while keeping it safe for everyone to voice an opinion is a real challenge, as conflict resolution is a skill rarely taught to managers.

Productivity consultant and author Laura Stack recommends managers hold a team meeting to discuss conflict and set some ground rules. She came up with a short list, some of which you first learned in grade school:

  • Respect each team member’s ideas.
  • Allow your teammates to develop their ideas fully.
  • Don’t interrupt.
  • Use polite language when you disagree.
  • When you disagree, explain why, clearly and concisely.
  • Offer an alternative solution.
  • Give credit where it’s due.
  • If a disagreement gets out of hand, stop and let the team leader sort it out.
  • Once the team has made a decision, support it wholeheartedly.

Not all of those may apply to you or your team, which is why coming up with your own makes sense. Besides enforcing the rules, managers also need to make sure everyone is heard and everyone feels safe speaking up. As Google discovered years ago, one of the most important ingredients to team effectiveness is when even the meekest feel they can share without fear of embarrassment or rejection.

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