Last week I was working with client and his team, putting the final touches on their annual strategic plan. As we were finishing up, my client asked if I could come in and do some work with his team on conflict resolution.

He felt they needed a lot of improvement in the areas of  communication and working together. When I asked what the major  issues were, he said they have so many different personality styles that it can be a struggle at times.

Conflict Within Strong, Diverse Teams is Inevitable, But Also an Asset.

Sure enough after doing some personality testing of his entire team, and graphing the team’s style chart, we discovered he was right. We had a team of twelve executive leaders who have very different approaches to accomplishing tasks, communicating and achieving goals.

This was a strong team with a broad range of talents, skills, experience and backgrounds. But rather than see that as a negative, I suggested we view it as one of his greatest assets.

I congratulated him on his brilliant approach to hiring and recruiting not only top talent but very diverse talent. With a little work and a little clarity around communication and expectations, we could turn his workplace conflict into his strategic asset.

We Tend to See Conflict as Uncomfortable

So often we see conflict as uncomfortable and do what we can to avoid it at all costs. When conflict can actually be just what we need to move our company forward. Healthy conflict ensures we see our blind spots, discover new solutions, execute more effectively and experience more financial success.

Some of the strongest relationships we have in life are at work.

We certainly spend more time with many of these people than we do with our own families, so just like with any relationship conflict is natural. It is only when we avoid conflict, refuse to address it,  that it becomes a negative.

If we want to make workplace conflict a strategic asset we must create a culture where we embrace it, discuss it  and actually encourage it. There is real value in diverse opinions, ideas and a little healthy argument.

6 Steps to Create Positive Workplace Conflict

1. Set the expectation that you expect, want and value healthy conflict as a leader.

If you encourage and reward people for speaking their minds in meetings, thank them for their opinion (even if it is not accepted) then you build a safe environment for open communication. You also need to address immediately both spoken and unspoken unhealthy conflict. Set a no tolerance policy for angry or passive aggressive behavior.

2. Ensure each of your team leaders is self aware.

They need to understand who they are and their unique communication style. Give your team the tools and information they need to understand their strengths, their weaknesses and their blind spots (personality tests such as DISC, Myers Briggs, or more involved testing)

3. Hold them accountable.

Hold them accountable to learn and understand the communication styles of their team members, their clients and their peers. Work with them and coach them to learn  to adjust their styles to better understand and communicate with others. Make them personally responsible for their own communication behavior.

4. Set clear expectations

Set clear expectations and ground rules for healthy communication.

5. Set the tone.

As the leader set the tone. Draw people out and encourage differences of opinion. Make time at meetings for needed discussion and ask for different opinions.

6. Always make people feel valued.

Acknowledge to the full team the unique value that each member brings to the group. Set an expectation for conflict by letting your team  know with the diversity of talents, experience and opinions you are counting on respectful conflict and look forward to the debate.

What is the Return on Investment of Workplace Conflict?

  1. Innovation – with open communication from a diverse group of leaders you have more access to innovative and creative ideas to solve challenges and discover solutions
  2. Financial Success – in a culture where conflict is encouraged, team members feel more open to discuss potential problems or concerns before projects are implemented or before they become too costly to fix
  3. Talent Development – cultures where opinions are valued attract and retain a higher rate of quality leaders
  4. Execution – people support what they help create – and cultures that embrace open discussion from everyone involved gain greater support and buy-in during execution.

Workplace Conflict is Natural…

Conflict is natural and when it is something we embrace rather than avoid, we can easily turn it from something that drains our culture to something that enhances it. We can turn workplace conflict into our strategic asset.