Constructive Conflict

I have had the fortune of serving in a leadership capacity for the past 17 years or so.  The roles that I have filled and the organizations in which I have served, required a high level of creativity and innovation.  Constructive conflict, which is a concept that I have carried with me from one organization to the next over these years, is directly responsible for the creativity and innovation that has been (and continues to be) realized.  The size of your organization does not matter by the way, as I have been a part of everything from large, multi-national corporations to small, regional businesses and this concept has been equally effective in all.

What’s at Stake?

The establishment of an organization that can take advantage of constructive conflict takes some doing.  The level of collaboration necessary to achieve this level of performance is substantial.  However, the investment needed to establish an organizational culture that incorporates this as a foundational element can, and will, pay dividends.  Today’s business climate is in a near constant state of disruption.  Whether you are part of a market leader or with an upstart, one given is that someone or something will be coming that will impact the way your business achieves its success.  To remain viable, your organization must adapt and evolve to maintain pace or to stay ahead of the competition.  Creativity and innovation provide you with the means of doing so and “constructive conflict” represents a great way of encouraging this.

What Can You Do to Encourage It?

Taking advantage of constructive conflict requires a high degree of trust.  Relationships are key here so it is essential that you take the time to get to know your team, for the team to get to know you, and for the team to get to know one another.  Everyone must feel comfortable in disagreeing with one another and everyone must accept that conflict will be a key element of the organization’s culture.

You can help to develop and maintain such a climate by role modeling the key behaviors that are needed for a conflict rich environment to flourish:

  • Asking for feedback from the team, accepting the feedback graciously when it is offered, and acting upon it to improve.
  • Being transparent when you disagree with an idea or concept that is being put forth and presenting your disagreement in a way that is viewed as non-threatening.
  • Interacting with your team in an open and honest manner and setting the expectation that they will behave similarly with you and with one another.
  • Encouraging diversity of thought in all that you do and recognizing the contributions of your team as they generate ideas that lead to positive organizational results.
  • Staying focused on the ideas that are being generated and keeping the conflict that does exist focused on this – constructive conflict is about challenging ideas, not one another.
  • Behaving consistently – your team must know what to expect from you in all circumstances.  Consistency contributes directly to a trust-filled environment.

Finally, sharing in the wins, and looking at failures as opportunities for development will help to cement these ideals in the members of your team.  When all are engaged and when all buy in to what is going on, the creative juices of your team will begin to flow and true innovation can occur.

Conclusion

As leaders, we have an obligation to drive organizational success.  However, we do not have all the answers or in most instances, even the best answers.  We spend a lot of time and effort in selecting and developing talented teams.  By creating an environment in which members feel safe to disagree with one another, we can ensure that a broad-base of contribution is achieved. Only when we take full advantage of what our teams have to offer can we truly achieve the creativity, innovation, and bottom line results that are demanded of us!