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Not all conflict is bad

June 25, 2014

In our series on the Myths of Teams, we’ve discussed how teams rarely have common goals and how you need more than just teamwork to achieve those goals. Today we delve deep into the team itself to explore the role of conflict, and unravel Myth #3: High-performing teams are conflict-free.

You didn’t think it would be that easy, did you?

I’ve written previously about the forming-storming-norming stages that many teams go through before reaching the desired state. But once you overcome initial conflict and get your team running in performance mode, you’re not destined to be conflict-free forever. Business teams are challenged because there are more sources that drive conflict.

istock_boxingBut not all conflict is bad.

Constructive conflict can, in fact, be positive–enabling teams to discuss different ideas and points of view to get to the best solution possible. What you want to avoid is destructive conflict. This is the kind of conflict that will hamper your team and its ability to get the job done effectively.

There are many potential sources of destructive conflict:
Shifting goals – Organizations are dynamic and it’s not uncommon for the team’s objectives and expectations to change, sometimes drastically, over time. This upsets the norm and can send the team back to the storming stage if team members are not transparent about their goals.
Misaligned compensation – Sometimes members of a team are compensated in a way that drives individual behavior that may run counter to the needs of the team.
Different perspectives – When team members come from different functional or even regional backgrounds, there is potential for conflict if those differences aren’t well understood and addressed.
Unhealthy interpersonal relationships – As the most obvious source of conflict, there is much focus applied to making sure that team members get along and work effectively together.

What’s a team leader to do?

You need to understand the difference between constructive and destructive conflict. And you need to identify areas of destructive conflict on an ongoing basis and use your influence–within the team and with the organization at large–to mitigate its impact on the team’s effectiveness.

What kind of conflict are you seeing in your team(s)? Share your stories with us in the comments below.

Morrow_Charley_2Charley Morrow is Vice President of Assessments at Linkage. He has over 20 years of experience designing, implementing, and evaluating training, individual assessment, and organizational-transformation interventions. He’s also an expert in developing assessments and methodologies for individual, team, and organizational motivation and performance. Follow him on Twitter @CharleyMorrow.


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