Take 5 for Teamwork

By: Saundra Stroope, Sr. Leadership Consultant, Executive Development Associates, Inc.

“For good ideas and true innovation, you need human interaction, conflict, argument, debate.”
– M. Heffernan

Conflict is one of those situations that some of us would prefer to avoid. But let’s face, you really can’t live without it. Healthy teamwork and conflict go together. The best team decisions are only made when members are able to communicate with respect, openly engage in discussion without fear of holding back, give candid feedback, and debate a variety of ideas before agreeing to the best solution to a problem.

It only becomes unhealthy when individual team members feel threatened and emotionally unsafe.  In an unsafe environment, individual team members compete to meet individual needs, instead of joining forces to find the solution that best meets the needs of the team or organization.  Too often, limited resources, competing goals, or overlapping responsibilities create confusion and competition among teams in companies.

In fact, when the publisher of the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument commissioned a study on workplace conflict, they found that U.S. employees spent 2.8 hours per week dealing with conflict. This amounts to approximately $359 billion in paid hours or even more for highly skilled workers.

There are a variety of direct costs to the organization associated with poorly managed conflict, including, in the worst cases, the loss of customers and good employees. Healthy teams recognize that conflict is bound to occur as an inevitable part of organizational life and are able to rise above individual differences and differing opinions to find the best and most innovative solution for the team.

How do they do it?

Teams have a common purpose and understand to be effective, successful, and profitable ultimately the company must work together to achieve a common goal.  They know time is money and don’t waste it.  The best teams prepare for inevitable differences by managing conflict effectively and creating an environment in which productive, healthy, conflict can thrive.

5 actions they take to foster and environment for healthy debate include:

1) Establishing and communicating the team’s common vision, mission, and purpose.

2) Clarifying individual team member responsibilities, roles, goals, and accountability levels.  This includes clarification of decision-making authority for each individual, so it is clear when they can move forward without approval.

3) Discussing and agreeing to operating principles or guidelines for how the team will interact and communicate with each other.  This can include the frequency of team meetings, expectations for participation, as well as preferred methods of communication such as e-mail, text, phone, and in person.

4) Identifying a process or method for resolving conflict when it does occur among team members.  By discussing it upfront and exploring alternatives, team members can be prepared for a healthy discussion, recognize new ideas, and the opportunity to improve.

5) Getting to know individual personality and conflict style preferences on the team to foster improved communication among the team members.  For instance, if you know that your co-worker usually prefers to accommodate in conflict situations, you can ask more questions to find out how to better meet their needs in the situation and understand concerns they might not voice immediately.  If your co-worker tends to compete for their own needs during conflict, you might adapt your style to listen effectively to their needs and respond in a manner that moves them when needed toward a win – win outcome.

Working together, teams CAN overcome true differences and accomplish more than the individuals working alone.  It only happens when they are able to manage conflict and communicate effectively.

“Honest disagreement is often a sign of good progress.”  – M. K. Gandhi

About the Author:

Saundra Stroope is a Senior Leadership Consultant at EDA with over 20 years of human capital experience within a variety of industries at award winning, global and Fortune 500 companies. She is the author of over a dozen works, including a chapter in a book on developing high potential emerging leaders in Integrated Talent Management Scorecards by ASTD Press.

Her expertise includes leadership development, succession planning, culture change, organizational development, career development, team development, curriculum design, facilitation, human resources, and coaching individuals at all leadership levels. She has a long track record of leading and measuring the success of talent development initiatives. Saundra’s passion for development, drive for results, business acumen, and many years of human capital experience, allow her to bring creative ideas and practical talent solutions to organizations.