Conflict is generally seen as something to be avoided at work, but more companies are realizing that’s not always the best method. In his 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 in the important aspects of your work.
Productive Conflict in the Workplace
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?
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.
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.
Ensure no harm comes to any participants
If your team is composed of polite introverts, the rigorous conflict will likely be a shock to their existing norms. As a leader, you’re supporting and recognizing those who publicly raise respectful disagreements.
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 with. Include why they think this idea is best, and why they don’t.
Measure initiative success
Without provable and definable metrics you’ll never understand your results. It’s important to know whether or not an idea worked and how 'success' is being determined.
empower rank-and-file participation
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 for smaller disagreements but can often be helpful with large projects and big ideas.
Everyone stands to gain from properly facilitated productive conflict. This is a great opportunity for participants to broaden their personal cross-functional employee network. Challenging norms can also reveal external career paths that would benefit the employee and company over the long run. Standing up these programs on your own can prove to be tricky, for a variety of reasons.
How Aspirant Can Help
Would the support of an impartial, unbiased partner help your teams overcome siloed thinking or competing priorities? Aspirant's Organizational Effectiveness experts can help develop and socialize a cohesive plan that keeps your company engaged and actively collaborating. Use the form below to schedule a casual discussion to explore how we can help amp up your team's productivity.
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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.