An Opportunity for Innovation

Have you ever been on a team and disagreed with a colleague or your team leader? What happens when it gets heated? Many of us shy away from any kind of conflict because we initially assume it is destructive. However, I would propose that even when the disagreement gets a little heated it is an opportunity for innovation.

A few years back, when I lived in a different country, I took a phone call from one of my team members to inform me of a fight that had taken place between two other people on the team. This situation had the potential to turn into something quite messy. I convened the leadership team to talk things through. To say things got heated would be an understatement and yet the solutions that came out of the discussion were both unexpected and innovative.

“In great teams, conflict becomes productive. The free flow of conflicting ideas is critical for creative thinking, for discovering new solutions no one individual would have come to on his own.” Peter Senge

It sounds counter-intuitive to think that out of disagreement creative thinking can occur. If this is your thinking, then on one level you would be right. Unfettered disagreement with no clear rules of engagement ends up in destructive behaviour and several wounded people. However rightly framed discussion with clearly understood rules of engagement produces quite unexpected outcomes. What is it which helps and what is it that gets in the way of such discussions?

Creating the Right Environment

In laying out things that will help you to disagree in a healthy way I am making the assumption that there is already a high degree of trust in the team. Without the foundation of trust, it is impossible to have creative conflict. This level of interaction requires there to be trust between those involved.

Factors affecting creativity in the middle of disagreement:

  • Remind the team that ideological conflict* or passionate disagreement around issues increases our creativity, allows us to innovate, and leads to an ability to problem solve more quickly.
  • Every person in the meeting has a valuable contribution to make and should be heard. This requires the people around the table to not only speak but to listen as well.
  • Use “I” statements. Avoid the word you in any statements you are making. “I” statements allow you to put across how you are feeling or processing information whilst being respectful of others.
  • Disagreement occurs because the issue being discussed matters. If it did not, you would be indifferent about it. Embrace the emotion that this brings. You will be passionate and at times frustrated as you wrestle with how to put your point of view across in a way that is respectful of your colleagues. It may require someone, especially when dealing with interpersonal conflict, to remind the room that whilst difficult it is necessary to unlocking the team’s potential.
  • Less powerful voices (i.e. those that have a preference for internal processing before speaking) should go first. They may not take the opportunity but making sure their valuable contribution is made is key to gaining a full picture.
  • The agenda for the meeting should be clear and enough information given prior to the meeting for decisions to be made and adequate time to prepare thoughts for those that need it.

*Ideological conflict is limited to concepts and ideas, and avoids personality-focused, mean-spirited attacks.” Patrick Lencioni

In research for my book, I found that a characteristic of high performing teams was: “Disagreeing without disengaging – emotional not personal, communicating opinions with passion, but listen to each other.”

The key is not to allow the discussion to get personal. When it does the issue is not being discussed, judgements are being made about people. Creativity is killed when people feel the need to defend themselves.

Buy a copy of my book to read more.

Stay safe.

Photo courtesy of Júnior Ferreira on Unsplash

Picture of Mark Billage

Mark Billage

Mark’s passion is to help realise individuals’ potential, be they leaders or team members, through empowering organisational culture. He has spent 7 years leading an organisation based in the non profit sector. In that time, he focused on creating a culture that enabled and empowered individuals, with the aim of seeing a high performing team better able to achieve the organisation’s mission.

Our Vision

To train and equip leaders to transform culture, build successful teams and organisations where everyone is seen, heard and valued for their unique contribution.

Scroll to Top