I was once sitting in a leadership team meeting and I thought ‘if anyone sticks their head in here to see what is going on they might conclude we are about to get physical’ so vocal was the disagreement. Have you ever been in a situation where the disagreement in the room is reaching a high level of discomfort? Amazingly that leadership meeting was one of the most creative and innovative I can remember. What was it that enabled this much disagreement not to spill over into all out conflict?
As leaders you create the environment in which people connect, make decisions, and engage on different levels. Often, like in the meeting I described above, things can get passionate and heated. Let me ask you a question: is the passion and heat in your meetings about personalities or the issues at hand? Depending on how you answered this question will predict whether you will have creative conflict in your team or not.
“Successful leaders manage conflict; they don’t shy away from it or suppress it but see it as an engine of creativity and innovation. Some of the most creative ideas come out of people in conflict remaining in conversation with one another rather than flying into their own corners or staking out entrenched positions. The challenge for leaders is to develop structures and processes in which such conflicts can be orchestrated productively.” Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky
There are some great insights in this quote. There is such a thing as healthy conflict. As you lead it requires a high degree of intentionality to create the environment in which this can happen. The outcomes though are well worth the effort.
Five Strategies You Must Employ
- The first strategy is trust. Unless there is a good foundation of trust in the team then time and energy will be used to maintain individual protection. Trust begins with you the leader; you must model it so it becomes the norm in the team.
- It must be an environment of connection. When the connection between team members is stronger then thinking the best of each other comes much more naturally. It means you know more about the person around the table than their name and role it involves finding out about what’s going on outside work.
- Key to disagreeing without disconnecting is to debate the issues, the decisions that need to be made. Keep it about the agenda not how you feel about other people’s decision making process. The decisions at a leadership level should matter and so passion is understandable. When you as leader keep the focus on the issues and shut down personal comments creativity and innovation follow.
- People view the world differently and this is ok. Your colleagues will not share your perspective. Instead of seeing this as something to resist, explore the differences by asking open questions that air the concerns, ideas and relevant data on the issues. This way you will achieve richer, deeper decisions with more ownership from those in the room.
- Finally, and perhaps most importantly, is to establish the rules of engagement – how team members will interact with each other in this meeting. Listening is always paramount. When team members talk over each other this shuts down contribution. All contributions are welcome and discussed; they may not be adopted but people want to be heard and need to feel safe to contribute. Decisions made in the meeting are the decisions of all. There should be no dissension outside the room.
There are others but these five will give you a good foundation.
To discuss further how you can leverage creative conflict in your team or organisation book a free discovery call here.