When working with teams, the issue isn’t generally that team members are ‘aggressive’ in conflict. Of course, this does happen but I don’t see it regularly. The more common issue is that team members don’t ‘lean into’ respectful conflict and tension. They shy away from it.
The opportunity to recognise difference and work through it is missed.
The best teams I work with learn to normalise conflict and set up ‘team norms’ to manage it. They understand it is a necessary part or ‘teaming’ and they agree ‘rules of engagement’ together. These can look quite different from team to team. Some teams are comfortable to raise voices respectfully, get into healthy debates, perhaps even interrupt each other at times. They understand that everyone respects each other, and they are all there to get the best outcome. They aren’t ‘fighting’, they are advocating for a perspective but doing it in a way that sustains the connection between them.
They are energised and purposeful. They care about one another and the outcome so aren’t offended when tension arises.
On the other hand, other teams prefer to focus on objective and emotionally free discussions.
There isn’t a clear ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ approach. Instead, the area to focus on is agreeing clear team ‘conflict norms’ from the outset. Discuss how you will have these discussions as a team; what is ‘in’ and what is ‘out’ in terms of respectful behaviour.
If you don’t set clear group norms around conflict, your team members wont readily lean into tension and difference or they won’t be clear on how to do this productively. The result? The stifling of creative exchanges and idea generation, and no commitment and buy-in.
Agree? What is your experience in your team? Keen to hear your feedback.
Agreeing Conflict Norms in Teams