It would be great to think that after we have carefully chosen our group, put in the work to meld them into a team it would be all plain sailing from then on.

But we all realise that simply isn’t going to be true. No matter how well prepared we are some things are going to go wrong. There is going to be miscommunication, relationship stress and frustration. Tension brings disagreements which can escalate into outright conflict.

It is never easy to decide whether an outbreak of conflict within a team needs special attention or if it will resolve itself in time. The other problem a Team Leader will have is deciding if the conflict is “Bad” or “Good”. And yes; there is value in some conflict.

Most of us associate conflict with stress, tension and anger, so it is not surprising that we tend to view an outbreak of conflict as something that needs to be stamped out. However as conflict can mean ‘to hold opposing views’ it can be of value to a working team.

It can increase energy levels and provide greater creativity through a variety of viewpoints. It can encourage deeper thinking about the problems and in exploring the solutions. With diverging viewpoints people are challenged to discuss their ideas and explain them in depth so that others understand them better. Conflict, when it is not personal, is part of critically examining ideas which is itself necessary to ensure good decision making.

Because we associate conflict with tension and anger, we far too often avoid it. In fact many of us would define a good team as one with no conflict between members. If this lack of conflict is because the team members are choosing to avoid it we can fall into what Irving Janis calls ‘Groupthink.”

When this occurs everyone in the team goes along with a suggestion or idea even if they have reservations about it. “Let’s not stir up conflict” seems to be the bottom line. It makes for harmony in the group but can lead to some very bad decisions. Sometimes members of a team believe that team solidarity is so important they will pressure anyone who suggests an alternative viewpoint to withdraw it from the discussion.

Remember that opposing views can force the idea to be critically examined. Without that input into the decision making process, flaws in the proposal will not be highlighted and appropriate action will not be taken. To avoid the stagnating effect of “Groupthink’ the leader needs to understand that constructive disagreement is healthy so an understanding of the following points is necessary:

· Conflict is natural and can be valuable
· Conflict can generate creative energy
· Non personal conflict is an outcome of real differences
· Different points of view are necessary to ensure decisions have been tested against reality

Recognising beneficial conflict is one of the skills of a Team Leader; as is becoming aware of the dangers of falling into the “Groupthink” trap; and I will be covering the concept of “Groupthink” in detail on Wednesday.

Michele @ Trischel

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