Patrick Lencioni, renowned author of 5 Team Dysfunctions, recently gave an interesting webinar on something that speaks to our credo. He addressed his 20 years of experience with Healthy Organisations, which are effectively high performance-facilitating cultures. The clincher for us though was his reinforcement that Healthy Conflict is an underpinning ingredient in a strong culture. Without it, all will suffer.
He elaborated on content in his latest book ‘The Advantage: Why Organisational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business’. We have summarised, for you, the key messages from the webinar that related to role of Healthy Conflict in organisational effectiveness.
Lencioni purports, that irrespective of how “clever” an organisation is, intelligence is necessary, but not sufficient. Nothing will succeed in surpassing competition and customer expectations without a strong, healthy culture. By that he describes a culture that has strong leadership, clearly communicated priorities and an acceptance of and encouragement to challenge and debate pivotal performance issues.
Lencioni spoke about obvious downsides existing in an unhealthy organisation such as sitting in a meeting when key business decisions are required and people are not honestly contributing. He described, in those circumstances, the best decisions are not made, the poorer decision is not committed to and supported with resolve and ultimately performance and productivity suffers.
Patrick Lencioni talks about the 4 Disciplines of a healthy organisation. He reinforces that the Disciplines must be driven by the Leader of an organisation –
- Build a Cohesive Leadership Team – Start with the behaviours of the leadership team. The leadership team must be behaviourally tight. That is, they must trust each other, argue well, focus on the collective good rather than individual silos, and hold each other to account.
- Create Clarity – The leadership team must be intellectually aligned around 6 key questions that provide clarity to the organisation. That is,
a.Why do we exist or matter as a business?
b. Our key behavioural values?
c.What business are we in?
d.What makes us different? – strategic anchors
e.Our Focus – What are our top priorities right now?
f. Roles and Responsibilities – who is responsible for this?
- Over Communication Clarity – Constantly remind people about the key questions. Be repetitious!
- Reinforce Clarity – Develop human systems that reflect the clarity provided by clear answers to the 6 key questions, for example, “recruit on Values”
Healthy conflict underpins these Disciplines, critical to building a healthy organisation. If healthy conflict doesn’t occur then the resolution of the tough questions and the quality of big decisions will suffer. It is necessary to disagree and have challenging conversations on the “WHAT” and “HOW” organisations deliver value.
Lencioni talked about the Conflict Continuum. The Conflict Continuum has a state of artificial harmony at one end. That is, where everyone is very “lovely” to one another and no one disagrees. He took the view that most teams cling to this end of the Continuum due to their fear of disagreement. At the opposite end of the Conflict Continuum, people edge towards destructive conflict, which Lencioni described as overt, mean-spirited behaviour.
Lencioni promoted the place to “live” is in the middle. The precise point is where he sees one more “step” will land you in the destructive conflict arena. It takes bravery to live in the middle. When living in the middle, you will occasionally step over the line to destructive conflict. But, he explained the key then is for the team to have the skills to confront what moved them into the unhealthy conflict arena and the best means to repair it.
Sound easy ? – It does but we know that somehow, more often than not, it doesn’t occur without “bumps”. A mixture of not having the skills, the bravery, the time and fearing the response are the inertial forces behind staying at the “artificial harmony” end of the continuum. We also know, as Lencioni points out, that conflict is not often encouraged. It often has a negative tag. The concept of healthy conflict is not embraced.
Lencioni described the two aspects that create more momentum for healthy conflict. Firstly, create an environment where healthy conflict is embraced. Create in team members an expectation that they will be confronted and they have prepared themselves to challenge and engage in disagreement as standard behaviour in decision making processes. They then begin to see that more active “weighing in” to the debate, produce better decisions, more commitment to the decisions and overall more purposeful, collective execution.
Secondly, when healthy conflict tips into the destructive arena there is an expectation that it will be resolved and it will occur quickly. Lencioni takes the view that when there is a hit to trust between employees, trust rebuilt can make the working relationship stronger. Our view is there is a caveat on that, trust can be rebuilt if the erosion wasn’t massive (to the point of distrust) and if it is addressed quickly and transparently. Realistically, embedded conflict is super difficult to repair and can sustain a deep scar. Sometimes, team members need a nudge to know when the line has been tipped and redirection or repair work is necessary. Leaders need to be on the look out for conflict moving into the unhealthy arena and step in, subtly initially, to support the team members to address the concern directly.
It is as easy as Lencioni describes, if you create the climate that encourages healthy challenge and constructive conflict and people have the skills to challenge in a healthy manner and resolve conflict when it tips into the unhealthy zone. Which is consistent with our previous blog posts on this very issue. Skills can be built through our in-house programs – Healthy Conversations and Leading Healthy Conversations. Both supported by our tool-kit, Interactive Guide for Leaders, which supports leaders in identifying conflict between members early. Also our Team Collaboration Workshop works with high performing teams in moving them to hum.