While in the US recently I picked up the HBR OnPoint focused on teamwork (A compilation of previously published articles on team work). One article caught my eye in particular ‘How Management Teams Can Have a Good Fight’ (HBR July-Aug 1997)
The tag line is particularly thought provoking: ‘The absence of conflict is not harmony, it’s apathy’.
If I think back on the best work environments I have ever been in (or endeavoured to create), they are environments where people can be open, honest and passionate about their beliefs. Where people can have a good vigorous debate, disagree or agree and then move on without it being personal.
The article provides great insight into creating an environment where you can get to the best decisions. Boiled down, it suggests the following model to allow conflict while building a team that gets along:
Strategy 1: Focus on the issues, not personalities. Key tactics:
- Work with more, rather than less information and debate on the basis of facts.
- Develop multiple alternatives to enrich the level of debate.
Strategy 2: Frame decisions as collaborations aimed at achieving the best possible solution for the company. Key tactics:
- Share commonly agreed upon goals.
- Inject humor into the decision making process
Strategy 3: Establish a sense of fairness and equity in the process. Key tactics include:
- Maintain a balanced power structure
- Resolve issues without forcing consensus
I have always thought of conflict as a step to resolution and heard too many people state that conflict should be avoided at all costs. This article provides a very interesting view on how to allow that natural conflict to drive the best decisions, while maintaining a team environment where people still enjoy working together.