Building High Performing Teams – Generative Conflict
We are conditioned to believe that conflict is all bad. For most of us conflict is an uncomfortable physical and mental state to be in. We will often avoid conflict at all costs. Conflict often implies right or wrong, yes or no, it is divisive by nature, it creates an urge to react. But what if it didn't have to be? What if we chose to respond not react?
Conflict can and should be generative. It (conflict) allows a difference to exist, an alternate to the status quo. In an early post I wrote about the difference between consensus and conflict and how high performing teams will not seek consensus, the aim in high performing teams is not to "meet in middle", in a high performing team it is more likely that everyone gets a say but not necessarily a vote.
Back when I was a strength & conditioning coach in the Australian Football League (AFL) I worked purposefully towards a role I wanted, that of physical performance manager of an AFL club. In late 2010, I was on the verge of realising this goal when the club informed that the role I had always wanted wasn't quite what I was expecting. You see, at the time, this club shared that role between two people. I took the role and took on this new concept of sharing a senior role with another person. It was this role that taught me so much about collaboration, high performance and the "power" of teams. When working on a program for our in-season campaign we work-shopped the program for several hours often disagreeing on content, not aligned on methods, modes or roles. In the end, the resultant program was better than I could do on my own, I could have produced a quality program, but this was better. The program was complex, nuanced and agile and it took two to create it and a team to implement it.
So, what did we do that allowed us to have a conflicted view of the best way to proceed but still generate a quality product?
- Trust - I trusted my colleague, his intentions, skills, knowledge and expertise;
- Absent Ego - my ego was absent. Although I fought for what I felt was important, it was also possible for me to acknowledge another's perspective and get out of my own way;
- Clear & Aligned - we were strongly aligned and clear on the outcome. That is, what does it look like successfully implemented (note - we were strongly misaligned on HOW to do it);
- Generative Conflict - we challenged situations, content, tasks, processes and assumptions but never challenged the person, their belief systems or values (remember TRUST);
- Time - we took plenty of it to get it right. We didn't rush it. This was early days in our relationship as collaborative partners. As the years passed we sped up, but initially we took the time, we valued it and we protected it (think slow down to speed up here).
Operating in a team with generative conflict is not easy, in fact it is often uncomfortable, takes time and energy and will have many failings (learning opportunities) but through this action we can start to leverage the real power of teams.
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