The majority of teams I work with have a conflict problem: They have too little conflict. They seldom express dissent, diversity of opinion, or frustration. Instead, they act passive-aggressively toward one another, leaving themselves in a quagmire of unresolved issues. As a team leader, you need to foster productive conflict to limit the damage done by this behavior.
There are so many ways a team can go wrong. Does your team make decisions so slowly that nothing ever gets done, or does it go too fast and miss critical issues that come back to bite you later? Does your team bicker endlessly or smile and nod while avoiding the tough issues? Too often, team dysfunction leads to abysmal productivity and zero innovation for your organization, as well as misery and wasted time for you. Most team members sit and wait, feeling trapped in a team that just isn't working.
Imagine the colleague with whom you have a very challenging relationship, the person who makes the most innocuous conversation tense and uncomfortable. Regardless of the topic, this person opposes you and approaches things as an adversary rather than an ally.
Collaboration is crumpling under the weight of our expectations. What should be a messy back-and-forth process far too often falls victim to our desire to keep things harmonious and efficient. Collaboration’s promise of greater innovation and better risk mitigation can go unfulfilled because of cultural norms that say everyone should be in agreement, be supportive, and smile all the time. The common version of collaboration is desperately in need of a little more conflict.
Recent cases highlighted in the media suggest that executives, in a desperate quest to quench the market’s unquenchable thirst for growth, are ignoring reason and dictating growth targets so insurmountable that their employees are turning to unethical and perhaps illegal means to achieve their goals (e.g., Wells Fargo, Enron, VA). Are you worried about something like this happening in your organization?
While the popular press talks of stress as a negative to be avoided, seasoned managers know better. If you’re trying to drum up new business, get a customer’s order out on time, or hit your numbers for the quarter, a little stress goes a long way. It’s even more important when you’re trying to transform your business or revitalize a sagging culture. That’s when you need enough stress to motivate action.