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Team Conflict: Friend or Foe?



Conflict is often thought of as the dark side of interpersonal relationships.  Many people associate conflict with something bad . . . negative . . . destructive.  Good news:  conflict can be a good thing!  If we consider the definition of conflict to be . . . simply differences in wants, needs, desires and opinions–then conflict can be highly desirable.

Absence of Conflict

Have you ever been part of a team where virtually no conflict exists?  People are resigned to go along with whatever the boss wants.  While the atmosphere is peaceful, the real danger of groupthink exists.

Groupthink can be deadly to a team.  The term first was used by social psychologist Irving Janis in 1972 to describe faulty decision-making such as the fiasco that occurred with the Bay of Pigs Invasion and the escalation of the Vietnam War. Groups are most vulnerable to groupthink when:

The same is true in workplaces today.  Why do teams fall into this dangerous trap?  Many reasons:

  • Lack of trust:  Team members often learn early on that it’s not okay to disagree with the boss.  Why risk criticism or ridicule by offering a different point of view?
  • Conservative culture:  When the culture clearly values the traditional way of thinking, only a fool would venture into new, untapped territory.
  • Team of clones:  When a leader hires employees just like him/herself people will tend to think alike.  Why not mix it up a little and select people who will offer different ways of thinking about problems and improvements?

Conflict:  A Kick in the Seat of the Pants!

I recently did a Google search–I simply typed in “conflict”. Instantly, I found over 7,000,000 results!  Conflict is certainly widespread in our society.  At its very basic level, conflict is simply about differences–in wants, needs, desires, perspectives and more.  Conflict can force team members to view things differently, consider a new perspective and challenge everyone to think collaboratively.

To avoid the trap of groupthink try this simple technique.  The next time you’re in a meeting and you (or someone) suggests something look around the room.  If everyone is nodding in agreement with that all too familiar blah look on their faces, ask someone to play devil’s advocate.  Ask someone to “shoot as many holes as you can in this idea.  This is too easy–let’s come up with all the reasons we can think of that this may not work.”

Stretch yourself–encourage differences in viewpoints, opinions and perspectives!

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