An organization’s success depends on the number of great decisions, based on great ideas, implemented throughout the organization by leaders and employees. These decisions are often made in meetings. These decisions are often resisted by meeting participants who have other points of view. With the different points of view, there is disagreement. Some call this disagreement conflict. While there are a number of kinds of conflict, and some of it (interpersonal for example) may be harder to address, much of the conflict endured in organizations can be the source of business success with a change in thinking.
Consider that when you have disagreement and conflict, you more importantly have alternatives – different ways to solve a problem, design a widget, make a decision. Having alternatives is a good thing, a great thing. Thought of this way, Baskins & Robbins is conflict – 31 choices, oh what to do. What’s often missing is the team’s skill in knowing how to deal with the conflict, how to deal with the options, how to deliberately and objectively discuss all the options and then decide.
Organizations can learn a productive, competitive way to think about and deal with conflict – an important revision to many leaders’ operating system about how they think about generating and selecting options.
In my thirty plus years working with organizations, I have seen three stages to developing the thinking around conflict and options that support effective decision making teams:
Co-exist - Unaware and undeveloped: This team spends time avoiding conflict, smoothing the edges, playing nice, but gossiping about poor accountability among teams throughout the organization. This team does not know how to turn unproductive conflict into productive business success. This team often allows one member to make the decision, to “win”, and the rest just go along with reservations. One decision with poor buy-in and support.
Cooperate - Aware but underdeveloped: This team includes members who have read and heard management gurus tell them the benefits of functional teams, good meetings, etc. These team members want to turn unproductive conflict into productive business success. But the management gurus fell short in showing them HOW to do this, and as a result the team remains hopeful but underdeveloped. This team often works to make the decision everyone agrees to and can live with, to “compromise”, and settle for a C-, tie, not-so-bad decision. The thinking in this stage produces a possibly better decision with improved buy-in and support but short of what’s available.
Collaborate - Aware and developed: This team includes members who have read and heard management gurus tell them the benefits of functional teams, good meetings, etc. But significantly, these team members have had the benefit of learning HOW, with presentations like this one, to see conflict as options, AND have learned HOW to use approaches and tools that depersonalize issues and guide a team’s thinking to promote the learning necessary to turn unproductive conflict into productive business success. Here, the best idea wins. This team knows how to do the work to make a decision the team more enthusiastically supports. The thinking in this stage produces a decidedly better decision with decidedly better buy-in. Different work, corralled egos, less interpersonal angst, more data, better results, and say it, more fun.
Organizations have a powerful opportunity to change their minds about decision making teams and conflict.
It’s been said that when fish get together to talk about their problems, they don’t talk about the water. This approach helps teams learn how to talk about the water.