Leadership Thoughts: #2 Conflict
We have all been there… Your morning has been great. You’re walking into your office and your coworker meets you at the door with a laundry list of drama that somehow materialized between dinner last night and your first cup of coffee. Things you were blissfully unaware of before stepping onto the property that morning. As you are wishing you could go back to that first sip of coffee when all was right with the world; you become inundated with details of a personnel conflict and start brainstorming possible solutions. Maybe every once in a while you wonder how efficiently you could complete your daily responsibilities if you didn’t have to deal with conflict among your family or work team.
Of course, most people have that one acquaintance that seems to create conflict for their personal entertainment, but aside from that person, most people don’t seek out conflict. However, I think the most successful people in life (professionally and personally), realize that conflict is important and even necessary for growth.
In fact, Patrick Lencioni identifies “Fear of Conflict” as a major hindrance to team building in his book “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.” It is easy to see the value and potential in conflict when it is quickly resolved and thought of as a learning opportunity. For instance, when it comes to relationships, a conflict with your spouse or loved one may become an identifier of a negative behavior in yourself, or the true feelings of the other person involved. Within an organization, these conflicts may reveal something as simple as lack of training, or something as profound as a lack of trust. In both situations, these factors can only be dealt with and identified once out in the open.
When it comes to team building and leadership within an organization, Tuckman’s Stages of Team Formation shows us that the “storming” phase, or the phase where most conflicts occur, is only the second stage in a team’s development on its way to becoming high performing. The four stages include Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing; each one building on the previous stage. In this model, it’s as if the ability to resolve conflict and establish boundaries becomes the launching pad for growth and performance within the organization. Without this phase, the necessary depth within the team to build trust and work together simply does not exist.
During the storming phase, a lag in performance is always present, and it represents an opportunity for the leader of the team to take initiative and quickly coach the team beyond this phase. Once these necessary conflicts are overcome, roles and responsibilities within the team are defined and performance moves forward into the next phase quickly recovering and gaining efficiency.
Of course, it’s important to pick your battles, because not all conflicts are worthwhile. There is a fine line between healthy conflict and incessant quarreling. Proverbs 15:18 says, “A hot-tempered man stirs up dissension, but a patient man calms a quarrel.” Because of this verse I would say that difference lies between a calm discussion and an emotional confrontation. If you aren’t able to discuss the issue with a controlled tone of voice, it might be better to revisit the discussion when emotions have settled and the issue can be discussed calmly.
How has conflict built a more effective team in your organization?