I had the good fortune of seeing Patrick Lencioni speak. Patrick Lencioni, the Five Dysfunctions author, was an entertaining, honestly simple and engaging speaker. You may recall our article last year, where we summarised some of Patrick’s thoughts on healthy conflict. When he spoke about conflict today, he pressed his message that amongst a leader’s important roles is the requirement to “mine for conflict”.
We know that he is a great supporter of conflict – he goes further than saying conflict is okay. He says conflict is necessary. Patrick Lencioni offered that conflict creates commitment. To step it out, he explained mining for conflict means searching for people’s opinions. He invited us to consider it as a “pursuit for truth”. Taking such an approach is a means to disagreement. But “disagreement, seen as “wading onto conflict” allows for robust conversation, debating and consideration of contrasting perspectives, when making decisions. Robust conversation, open disagreement and debate, means people buy-in to decisions and are then accountable for them (if they have contributed in the pursuit of truth). He explained that people ‘weighing–in’ to decisions, through others mining for conflict, will create buy-in to decisions and enhance commitment to act. If there is no real conflict, the team falls prey to a lack of commitment to decisions “made” in the team.
Creating such a climate means that people are willing to speak out – no one holds back their opinion about important matters because they are worried what they say won’t land well. They have trust within the team’s shared, healthy perspective on conflict so that their own sense of vulnerability won’t be exploited. This is evidence of trust within the team and the foundation layer of the 5 markers of high performing teams (5 Dysfunctions flipped to the positive)!
Patrick Lencioni was candid in saying that conflict, even productive conflict, is inevitably uncomfortable for people. But that’s okay. In referring to the conflict continuum he confirms that teams should be sitting in the middle – not down one end in “Artificial Harmony” or at the other, which is hateful, mean destructive conflict (Unhealthy Conflict). The middle ground is a zone of healthy productive conflict that sometimes involves taking one step too far into destructive conflict. Again, he said ‘that’s okay’ – a bit of scarring arising from a step into destructive conflict and pulling back, allows the opportunity to heal and then be stronger as a team. Meaning – teams learn from overstepping into unhealthy conflict and become stronger as the recovery and healing creates tolerance for productive conflict. Inherent in that is the skill to step back out of unhealthy conflict and recover.
‘Embrace conflict’, were his words, but then one requires a particularly broad perspective to willingly wade into and get stronger through conflict.