April 10, 2018 9:00:00 AM EDT

Friday Fight Club: How does your organization support productive conflict?

Conflict is generally seen as something to be avoided at work, but more companies are realizing that’s not always the best method. In the book The Empowered Manager: Positive Political Skills at Work, author Peter Block says that avoidance of organizational politics and conflict can result in a lack of accomplishment at the important aspects of your work.

 

Conflict helps us grow. If everyone at a meeting agreed with each other and never questioned ideas, there would be no innovation. So, how do you support productive conflict without causing damage from disagreements?

 

First, encourage all of your team members to speak up and express their viewpoints. If there’s a point-of-view with which they disagree, there’s no need for silent resignation. People can express disagreement without being disagreeable. Make sure people show respect and consider others’ perspectives when voicing concerns.

 

Next, any debate should focus on facts. People need to have passion for their work and what they are discussing without letting that passion overplay their logic. You need to encourage these debates among your team, reinforcing idea generation. Challenging the status quo is a path to innovation. You should encourage your whole team to learn from each other’s ideas, even if they don’t agree with them.

 

One of the most important things for you to do in supporting productive conflict is to make sure no harm comes to anyone who participates. If your team is composed of polite introverts, rigorous conflict will likely be a shock to existing norms. Ensure that as a leader, you’re supporting and recognizing those who publicly raise respectful disagreements.

 

Have regularly scheduled brainstorming meetings, include people from various roles. For these meetings, build in dedicated time for challenges and disagreements, and most importantly, don’t skip over the 10, 15, or 20 minutes if nobody initially raises objections. This serves two purposes - first, it doesn’t allow disagreement to get in the way of idea generation; second, dedicating time to challenges ensures that ideas go through a vetting process.

 

Use a round robin approach, giving everyone a chance to share their thoughts, suggestions and ideas. Encourage them to build on each other’s ideas. Ask them why. Not just why they disagree, but what they do agree. Include why they think this idea is best, why they don’t.

 

When you do move forward with an idea, make sure to measure its success. Without provable and definable metrics you’ll never understand your results. It’s important to know whether or not an idea worked.

 

Also keep in mind, the higher you are on the org chart the less you should comment on the discussions. You want ideas, not just head nodding at your brilliance. Think of your job here as encouraging the conversation, not adding to it.

 

You can also consider getting an outside mediator who can help keep your team focused and honest in the process of productive conflicts. This may not be necessary on smaller disagreements but can often be helpful with large projects and big ideas.

 

 Understand your culture

Judy Johnson
Judy Johnson

Judy partners with executives and leadership teams to engage and inspire employees in a way that delivers sustainable strategic results. She brings deep expertise and creative ideas to solve organizational effectiveness issues and closely collaborates in a way that builds internal capabilities. Judy has spent over 25 years consulting in a variety of industries, bringing her expertise in behavior to a wide range of organizational issues including organizational behavior change, leadership, change management, culture and engagement.