With many of the teams with whom we have been involved, conflict arises. Even among the most capable, different opinions, viewpoints and preferences arise. This is a strength of a capable, agile team. It is also a failure point. Here’s the way it unfolds: difference emerges, team members take positions, conflict emerges, group grinds a bit – in desperation the power structure kicks in to override or suppress the conflict. People are reminded of the limitation of their role without insight about how they might have made more progress individually or collectively and the team misses a chance to progress their work, or worse a learning opportunity.
Even beyond the team context, too often we see people in authority exert their power to quiet opposition or doubt. This is often done under the label of “action-orientation” or some other productivity-based interpretation that misses two key points that ensure:
- People will not engage in that which they don’t co-create.
- Progress happens when the team, organization develops an enduring expansion of its capabilities – bigger, broader, faster – it really doesn’t matter. Activity for activity sake is merely an “anxiety-reduction” technique. (Makes the person in charge feel better but many times delays the resolution or growth of everyone else involved.)
So how do you avoid the trap? It can be really complicated. Sometimes, if people feel understood, they can endure more loss than if they feel bulldozed. So we recommend that’s where we always should begin. This doesn’t mean hold out for consensus or unending debate. It does mean people have a chance to outline their views and concerns and that they have been acknowledged – even in the case of deep disagreement. If people feel understood and how the decision is to be made, there is a significant increase in the productive possibilities that follow.
Here are a few steps to ensuring your colleagues are feeling heard and understood:
- Begin by outlining your understanding of the challenge/problem. (Ask others how their view is similar or different – remember – how we look at the problem is almost always part of the problem. Let’s ensure we know which problem everyone thinks they are solving.)
- Explain how the decision is to be made – vote, cost, risk – whatever – just outline it.
- During the discussion ask questions that indicate you heard what they said AND want to know more. (For pointers look up “Reflective Inquiry” – like all skills, it might take some practice.)
In most cases my client can’t afford consensus – either it takes too long or it grants everyone the power of a veto. This approach will lead you and your team to make faster better decisions while building a stronger environment where harder decisions can be tackled and overcome.
Practice makes perfect. Good luck!