What Makes a Good Team? Part Six: Conflict

There is no perfect team. But there is a recipe for success – many similar characteristics shared by effective teams, independent of industry or function. Throughout this blog series, we will take a closer look at each of these characteristics, explore why each is important, and provide you with ways to instill and improve each characteristic within your own team.

Part Six: Constructive Conflict Drives Innovation

Conflict

noun

con·flict  ˈ/känˌflikt/

  1. competitive or opposing action of incompatibles
  2. mental struggle resulting from incompatible or opposing needs, drives, wishes, or external or internal demands

Team ConflictWe often think of teamwork as meaning a cohesive, well-oiled group devoid of conflict, where everyone gets along and everything runs smoothly. However, that is just not reality. Every group – every team – goes through some form of conflict as some point. It is part of the Five Stages of Team Development, known here as “Storming,” and most often occurs when a team is first formed or during the early stages of a new project as team members have different opinions and compete with one another for status and for acceptance of their ideas. “Conflict arises from the clash of perceptions, goals, or values in an arena where people care about the outcome,” says researcher Tony Alessandra. But conflict doesn’t have to be a bad thing. As former President Ronald Reagan once said, “Peace is not absence of conflict, it is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means.” Conflict can be handled in a positive and meaningful way.

It may sound counter-intuitive, but the best way to grow as a team and foster creativity and innovation is through conflict – constructive conflict. This can be a difficult stage to go through, but this is also the point where real teamwork and communication begin to develop. Team members start to settle into their individual roles and learn to put aside their differences and listen to opposing viewpoints in order to solve problems as a unit.

Constructive Conflict vs. Destructive Conflict

There is such a thing as positive confrontation. While many team leaders are focussed on how to resolve conflict, strong teams use conflict as a means for open, honest communication and team growth.

  • Destructive Conflict: When two team members refuse to respect one another’s opinions. Productivity comes to a screeching halt and everyone suffers.
  • Constructive Conflict: When two team members have differing opinions, but respectfully talk through their thought processes and come to a mutual agreement that allows the team to move forward. Productivity skyrockets and the whole team benefits.

Studies show that innovation emerges from groups where conflict is welcomed rather than discouraged. In 2009, Watson Wyatt , Inc., a global consulting firm, reported that companies which communicated effectively had a 47% higher return to shareholders between 2004 and 2009. In this report, the Watson Wyatt noted that “Effective internal communications can keep employees engaged in the business and help companies retain key talent, provide consistent value to customers, and deliver superior financial performance to shareholders.” Conversely, according to Talent Management, 86% of employees blame lack of collaboration (just another word for communication and teamwork) for workplace failures.

However, without strong leadership, conflict can tear a team apart.

“As a team leader, one must realize the paradox that surrounds conflict,” says researcher Erich Brockmann. “The team needs to embrace conflict as a means of generating and evaluating ideas. While at the same time, it must shy away from it to prevent anger, frustration, or alienation. The biggest challenge for the team leader is figuring out how to balance these two forces”

Embracing Conflict and Learning to Work Together

“Communication leads to community, that is, to understanding, intimacy and mutual valuing.”

- Rollo May

Through a series of exciting and carefully designed Corporate Team Building activities, your group will find better, more effective ways to communicate and work with one another in a respectful and meaningful way. Each activity is led by one of our experienced facilitators, who will not only help guide your experience, but also tie the lessons back into the workplace. We do this during our debriefing sessions.

After the exercise, your group will sit down with their facilitator to discuss the lessons behind what they just did. This discussion is designed to reinforce these lessons and help ensure that the progress made during your team building outing sticks.

Schedule Your Corporate Team Building Session!

Conveniently located between Baltimore and Washington DC, Terrapin Adventures is able to create a customized program (onsite or offsite, indoor or outdoor) to help better your business. Our programs provide for exciting activities that bridge the gaps in communication, improve collaboration, and expand your group’s problem solving skills.

If you have any questions, please call Terrapin Adventure at 301.725.1313, or email us at info@terrapinadventures.com to learn more.

Works Cited:

  1. Carter McNamara on April 30, 2013. “How Constructive Conflict Can Supercharge Teams – Team Building and Performance.” Team Building and Performance. N.p., 2013. Web. 09 Dec. 2016.
  2. Alessandra, Tony Ph.D. & Hunsaker, Phil Ph.D. (1993) Communicating at Work. New York: Fireside Publishers.
  3. Brockmann, Erich. (1996, May). Removing the paradox of conflict from group decisions. Academy of Management Executive. v10n2, p. 61-62.

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