There are two ways of looking at things that happen to us and around us, and it boils down to making opportunities out of them or counting them as losses. Liane Davey, Co-founder of 3COze Inc. and author of “The Good Fight” explains how
we can turn conflicts into productive outcomes, managing team work and the
competencies that are in the spotlight.
On your book The Good Fight you state “Use productive conflict to get your team and organization back on track”, but we´re used to a negative meaning of conflict. What do you refer to “productive”? Can a conflict be productive and how?
Productive conflict is when you have a difference of perspective that contributes to a better outcome. From an organization perspective, it’s the kind of vigorous debates and discussions that lead to increased productivity, greater innovation, better risk identification or mitigation. From a team perspective, it’s the willingness to engage with candour to strengthen your relationships and understanding. From an individual perspective, productive conflict is about addressing issues so they don’t lead to resentment or stress.
What is in your experience the most common challenge of working in teams?
One of the challenges is that most teams have not only people with different personalities, but also with different roles. Those roles cause us to come at issues differently. As you fulfill your role, you bring different expertise and experiences, you represent and advocate for different stakeholders, and you have different obligations to put tension on the discussion. Those different roles mean that teams need to be exceptional at managing conflict. Unfortunately, as humans, we tend to be poor at conflict…and the result is that our teams get into signifiant conflict debt.
According to your book, 23% of senior leaders say their team is effective. What happened to the other 77%?
Teams fall down in one (or both) of two different areas. First, teams become ineffective when they don’t have strong alignment about the purpose and mandate of the team. Gaps in perception lead to different priorities, different actions, and ultimately an erosion of confidence and trust. The other area where teams become ineffective is in the team dynamic. When team members don’t trust one another, they hesitate to communicate transparently and proactively, they shy away from difficult conversations, and they misinterpret one another’s behaviour. Between alignment issues and team dynamic issues, there’s lots of room for teams to be sub-optimized.
Which competences are in the spotlight right now?
The pace of business is 2020 was already putting a spotlight on resilience, communication, and collaboration skills. Since COVID-19 and the upheaval of working at home, these skills are becoming even more important.
Another surprising number shown is that we spend almost 3 hours a week dealing with conflict each week. Why do you think this happen? It´s because teams don´t know how to communicate or because maybe things about compatibility between personalities?
Often, managers behave in a way that exacerbates the problem. One way they do that is by trying to maintain team harmony at the expense of dealing with challenging issues. Unfortunately, the issues don’t go away, they tend to get bigger. Another issue that causes managers to spend an inordinate amount of time dealing with conflict is that they often ignore or underplay their team member’s emotional reactions to issues. Counterintuitively, trying to minimize drama actually amplifies it. Managers minimize drama by making room for people to express how they’re feeling and then to pivot the conversation to what would help or how to move forward. When an employee gets emotional, I like to use the phrase, “This is important, what do I need to understand?” Another thing managers can do to reduce the amount of conflict they are dealing with is to set strong norms up front for the type of conflicts that team members should expect and should consider productive. Then, managers can set clear expectations about which types of tensions they expect people to solve on their own and when it’s appropriate to escalate the issue.
What do you believe is going to be and is already being the most teachable lesson teams AND leaders are having through this unique 2020 we are having worldwide?
Teams are doing a great job of getting the mission critical work done in this unprecedented time. The best teams are doing that by improving their focus and prioritization. Where many teams are struggling is maintaining a sense of connectedness and belonging. It will require more learning and practice to communicate more effectively without the advantage of being co-located, including making space for casual conversations and not being afraid to have uncomfortable conversations virtually.