In this series of blog posts we'll share some of our research and insights into four myths about teaming: luck; weak links; zero conflict; and success is the deliverable. Today, we're talking about zero conflict.
There’s a pervasive myth that high performing teams are well oiled machines, which glide along with no friction or internal strife. In reality the most successful teams are among the most combustible and prone to conflict, and may fight as often and as intensely as some of the lowest performing teams. But there are two differences between those teams in conflict that are high performing, and those for whom conflict is a symptom of low performance. First, high performing teams actually address the problems they face. Second, their conflict leads to progress.
All teams have disagreements, and when disagreements are not verbalized it leads to brooding quiet storms, where members don’t or can’t express their frustration or concerns. Not every discussion about where to get sandwiches needs to be hotly contested – but on those issues about which you feel passionate it’s important to express how you feel with teammates.
When successful teams do fight, they fight well; their disagreements lead to progress. Team members listen to each other, but they also express their concerns or frustrations. Conflict can be the sign that your team is growing. It means people are passionate, and on good teams the passion stems from excitement around getting the job done, the process, and working together. Conflict means that people are pushing each other. Some teams may not have conflict, not because they are harmonious, but because team members are passive and disengaged. Successful teams seek and embrace conflict because they know it means the team is invested in what it’s doing.
The key to conflict on a team is that it’s leading somewhere. If you sense disagreements on your team from two people with different ideas about where a project should go, encourage them to speak their minds and to find common ground. That conflict can lead to important breakthroughs and allow team members to share their ideas and feel heard. Conflict, isn’t something that holds teams back. When done well, it’s part of the path to success.