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Why Your Team Needs Conflict

When we think of conflict we usually think of yelling, screaming, arguing and trying to avoid it at all costs. But is there another side to conflict? Could it be that we actually need conflict in teams?

Thursday 7 May 2015

I want you to think of an effective team you have been a part of or know well.  Was there ever any conflict?

Now keep in mind I'm talking about the healthy expression of conflicting ideas, views, disagreement and opinions, so was there ever any conflict?

I hope there was and if not, then I would suggest the team you're thinking of was perhaps made up of drones or robots that just did as they were told and could have been far more effective.


How Much Is Too Much

I'm not for a moment suggesting that for a team to be effective they must always be in conflict.

What I am suggesting though is that there needs to be a certain level of conflict so that opinions and ideas can be explored. If the appropriate level of conflict is managed then this leads to better relationships within the team, increased productivity and innovation.

So how much conflict is needed?  Well that depends, and is the challenge a leader must manage.  The graph identifies productive levels of conflict.


As you can see, by monitoring the level of conflict and the associated behaviours a leader will be able to determine if conflict is productive (functional conflict) or unproductive (dysfunctional conflict) and take appropriate action.  These actions may include:


Too Little Conflict

  • Seek out people's opinions
  • Ask team members how things could be done differently or improved
  • Intentionally express a contentious opinion and draw people into a discussion


Too Much Conflict

  • Act as mediator and control discussions so the focus is on the priority issues
  • Manage behavioural issues through counseling or a poor performance process
  • Acknowledge and work through heightened emotions with individuals


Productive Conflict

  • Congratulate people on their preparedness to express alternate views
  • Manage the process for robust discussions
  • Encourage resolution and actions from discussions


The management of conflict is always a topic raised in my leadership and team development workshops and is often high on the list of challenges leaders face.  If you or your team would like support in addressing conflict or other performance issues, please contact me direct via mark@intelligentperformance.com.au or use our Contact Us link and we can discuss possible options.


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