CONFLICT: The Value of Healthy Conflict in Organisations

Several people sitting around a table at work in animated discussion

Why is conflict so important in teams?

Conflict in the workplace is often viewed negatively, conjuring images of tension, aggression, arguments, dysfunction, mean-spirited exchanges and, at worst, fisticuffs! However, when approached effectively, conflict can be a powerful catalyst for positive change within organisations. Healthy conflict, characterised by open communication, diverse perspectives, and constructive resolution, can drive innovation, foster collaboration, and contribute to overall organisational success. 

In Patrick Lencioni’s Five Behaviours model, he cites Conflict as the second behaviour (or ingredient!) needed for teams to be effective and successful. 

The Nature of Healthy Conflict 

Healthy conflict is not about creating a toxic work environment or promoting discord for its own sake. Instead, it involves the respectful exchange of differing opinions and ideas, allowing teams to explore alternative viewpoints and to challenge existing approaches. It is a dynamic process that encourages individuals to express their thoughts, question assumptions, and engage in constructive dialogue. 

The Key Benefits of Healthy Conflict 

Innovation and Creativity: 

When individuals with diverse experiences and perspectives come together, conflict naturally arises as a result of these different standpoints. Healthy conflict stimulates creative thinking and problem-solving, leading to innovative solutions that may not have been considered in a more harmonious environment. 

Improved Decision-Making: 

A culture that encourages healthy conflict ensures that decisions are thoroughly examined from a variety of angles. Differing opinions naturally force teams to critically evaluate options, leading to more robust and well-informed decisions. 

Enhanced Communication Skills: 

Engaging in healthy conflict requires optimised communication skills, as individuals must express their thoughts and opinions clearly, listen actively to others, and remain open-minded. Stronger communication skills serve to foster a more transparent and collaborative workplace. 

Increased Team Cohesion: 

Teams that navigate conflicts successfully often emerge stronger. The shared experience of addressing and resolving conflicts builds trust among team members, leading to greater collaboration and synergy. 

Personal and Professional Growth: 

Conflict invites individuals to take a step out of their comfort zone, leading to personal and professional performance uplifts. Constructive feedback, a natural by-product of healthy conflict, also provides opportunities for learning and growth. 

How can we embed healthy conflict? 

Stimulate CHALLENGE: When an organisation encourages employees to voice their opinions, without fear of being judged, laughed at or ignored, diverse ideas come forward for debate. All team members will have different backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives, bringing diversity of thought that may have been missed in the past. Take the lead by positively ‘mining for conflict’, ask the questions that remain unasked, invite the input from those not yet consulted, challenge the visible unease. 

Help the ‘AVOIDERS’: Often conflict remains unresolved as individuals feel uncomfortable giving developmental feedback or challenging opinion. The answer here is to reframe the discomfort: what value will the feedback or challenge potentially give us? Looking back, how often do we wish we had discussed the issue or challenged the approach sooner? 

Provide the TOOLS: When an organisation clearly communicates that respectful and constructive discussion is encouraged, the cultural expectation is set. Some organisations elect to provide skills development for their managers on managing difficult but necessary conversations’ or ‘navigating constructive conflict’ so that competence grows, expectations are set, and confidence follows.  

The value of healthy conflict in organisations cannot be overstated, it serves as a powerful catalyst for growth, innovation, and improved collaboration. But, without an embedded culture of trust (see last week’s article), Lencioni offers that conflict will remain unresolved at best, avoided at worst. Embedding trust and embracing healthy conflict as a natural part of organisational culture and ‘business as usual’ results in resilient, adaptive, and successful teams – something every organisation strives for! 

Talk to us about how we can support you to embed trust and develop value from conflict in your organisation. 

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