Last week, we began our discussion around our latest Lockdown read, ‘The Five Dysfunctions of a Team’ by Patrick Lencioni.
If you didn’t catch it, we discussed the first dysfunction he identifies amongst teams - Absence of Trust. The full blog can be found here.
This week, we will explore the next dysfunction:
Dysfunction Two: Fear of Conflict
Typically, teams will see conflict as a bad thing – whether its due to wanting to avoid hurting people’s feelings, avoid group tension or simply because they feel conflict will make them less productive.
Lencioni believes however that all great relationships require productive conflict in order to grow.
By avoiding conflict, teams can actually be less productive as the same issues arise again and again; they can actually hurt feelings via ‘office politics’ rather than bringing issues to the table; and there is tension in the group as everyone is effectively ‘walking on eggshells’ around each other.
He is clear to point out that he discussed conflict, he does not mean “destructive fighting and interpersonal politics” – what he means by conflict is:
“Ideological conflict is limited to concepts and ideas, and avoids personality-focused, mean-spirited attacks.”
He does however advise that it should have the same level of passion, frustration and emotion if it is to be effective and honest.
So, is ‘Fear of Conflict’ a dysfunction of your team?
Here are some of the traits of teams with a fear of conflict:
- Have boring meetings
- Fail to tap into all opinions and perspectives of team members
- Waste time and energy managing interpersonal risk
- Create environments where office politics thrive
So, if we know this is a dysfunction of our team, how can we address it?
Obviously Lencioni does not encourage you pro-actively trying to cause unnecessary team conflict – however he does want you to recognise that conflict can be both necessary and productive to help a team thrive:
Mining: In a team which typically avoids conflict, Lencioni advises that occasionally someone should assume the role of a ‘miner of conflict’ in order to extract hidden disagreements and bring them to the forefront. This could involve discussing sensitive topics, so the miner should be someone who can maintain objectivity and all need to commit to staying in the meeting until the conflict is resolved.
Real-Time Permission: This exercise is around supporting and coaching your team members to remind them that it is good to have healthy debate. Lencioni suggests that if, during a mining exercise, it is sensed that someone is uncomfortable with the situation, they are reminded that what they are doing is necessary. This might sound very simplistic, but he advises that it is a very effective tool for giving participants the courage to continue. Similarly, he suggests remining all participants at the end of a meeting how the conflict they have engaged in will be good for the team.
Personality Testing / 360 Feedback: Similar to last week, by bettering our understanding of our team member’s personalities and behaviours, barriers can be broken as people learn to how others deal with conflict and can therefore anticipate approaches or resistance accordingly.
And what if you are the leader of a team where there is a fear of conflict?
Lencioni advises that perhaps the greatest challenge is to protect your team members, whilst not interrupting the disagreement prematurely and leaving the issue unresolved. For the team to develop a healthy approach to conflict, they need to develop their conflict management skills and resolve their issues.
A leader should of course also lead by example, and not shy away from conflict themselves where necessary and productive.
Over the last 12 weeks, every business has faced challenges.
Some businesses will have had to make tough decisions about potential redundancies.
Some businesses will have looked to review their cost base.
Some businesses will have taken the opportunity to review their company processes in order to improve and streamline their company.
Thinking about meetings where these discussions have taken place – with differing views, in a stressful time, I’m sure some conflict would have been felt.
Did you debate this conflict within the team and discuss until resolved? If you did, did that lead to a better end product and a more harmonious team?
Or did you perhaps not raise your voice even if you disagreed with an idea, due to a fear of conflict? And do you now regret that as the desired output to the problem has not been achieved?
If you are still not sure that conflict is for you, think about what a team with a lack of fear of conflict would look like. Such a team would:
- Have lively and engaging meetings
- Solve real problems quickly
- Minimise office politics
- Extract ideas from all team members
- Put critical topics on the table for discussion
I’m not sure any of us would argue that this doesn’t sound ideal?
Next week, we will explore the third dysfunction that Lencioni identified: Lack of Commitment.
If you want to learn more about this subject, the book can be purchased here.