Thriving organizations have cultures where healthy conflict is honored, not avoided. In healthy conflict, competing values are allowed to surface, which gives the organization and everyone in it a chance to examine, discuss, and debate what really matters. This leaves the organization and its people in a stronger place.
By contrast, unhealthy organizations avoid or deny conflict or make it a zero sum game where there are winners and losers.
The work of crafting thriving organizational culture is the primary work of leaders. How are you doing with this crafting as it relates to conflict?
Here are four questions/activities we have found helpful for teams who are determined to engage in conflict in new and healthy ways. If you are a team leader, consider setting aside some time to have your team engage with these questions:
1. Ask each individual on the team to consider: “How do I typically handle conflict?” by giving a one sentence descriptive answer, i.e. “I typically back down” or “I usually go on the attack”. Once each team member has owned their own default mode, ask a corporate question: “How do WE as a team typically navigate conflict together?”.
2. Ask the team to commit to this statement: “As a team we are willing to consider a new way of handling conflict”. Once everyone has agreed (or not agreed) talk about how the team can be helpful to each other in this regard.
3. Discuss if and how the roles and expectations of team members clearly support the unfolding mission of the organization in a concerted way.
4. Have a candid discussion around this question: “Are performance evaluations and incentive structures in our team clearly tied to expectations in concrete behavioral ways?”
Don’t expect to be able to get through these questions in a single one hour meeting. Rather, think about making them the focus of an ongoing series of meetings. Over time – a shorter amount of time than you might expect – you will find that your team is embracing and living into a new way of navigating and thriving through conflict. And this will go a long way towards establishing and reinforcing the kind of culture where people are engaged and committed.