(615) 656-0465 mark@markskenny.com

Note: this is the ninth in a series of weekly tips to build a functional, collaborative, aligned team.

Tip: Develop Conflict Norms for Your Team

Every healthy team has regular, healthy conflict. It is essential to finding the best solution, making the best decision, achieving buy-in, and developing accountability. Pat Lencioni writes about this when he says that your meetings should be like movies – they shouldn’t be boring.

The problem is that most teams are afraid of conflict.

The solution is to create conflict norms so that your team knows exactly how conflict will and won’t be handled. Having a predictable environment makes it much easier for team members to engage in healthy conflict.

Before we get to creating norms, let’s clarify. Healthy conflict is ideological conflict, not interpersonal conflict. It is passionate debate about ideas, challenging each other in order to get to the best solution, voicing concerns, expressing opinions even when they disagree. This is important because if people don’t feel open to weigh in with their opinions, they won’t commit to the eventual decision. And if there is underlying disagreement or disapproval with the team’s direction that does not get expressed, that will fester and cause bigger problems.

Setting conflict norms set the ground rules for how your team will engage in debate around ideas, before the passion starts and the emotions get rolling.

Here are some ideas for conflict norms that your team could adopt:

  • We debate ideas, not people.
  • We actively solicit one another’s opinions during meetings. The Table Group suggests naming this conflict norm “Silence Equals Disagreement.” (note that some people, like myself, need a little time to digest the data before being asked to share their opinion).
  • When conflict occurs, our team confronts the issue before moving on.
  • We don’t shy away from discussing the most important issues.
  • When someone offers their opinion, everyone else stops and gives them their full attention, asking questions to understand.
  • No post-meetings: we debate and disagree during our meetings. We don’t have side conversations to express our opinion after the meeting.

Creating conflict norms can be quick and easy. Get together and:

  • Ask everyone to write down their preferences for acceptable and unacceptable debate.
  • Have each team member share and explain their preferences.
  • Come up with a list of collective preferences. Spend time talking about clear differences of opinion.
  • Record your conflict norms.
  • Pull them out and review at the beginning of each meeting (tip: put them in your Strategic Team Playbook). Remind the team that healthy conflict around ideas is important to the health and success of the team.

Go build a functional, collaborative, aligned team!