One of the great organizational challenges is creating open debate which is an essential ingredient to think beyond the current reality. Those at the top can espouse their strong desire for this but that alone won’t compel a team to handle conflict productively.
Patrick Lencioni discusses conflict as one of the cornerstones of good teams and utilizes a Conflict Spectrum as a helpful metaphor. At one end is “Artificial Harmony”. We all know what this looks like as illustrated by a CEO client who astutely observed that, “Polite conversations equals polite results.” On the other end of the spectrum is “Personal Attacks” and we know what that looks like as well. Conflict that becomes personal, whether meant or perceived, becomes completely unproductive. The middle of the spectrum is the healthy and productive place to be, with the conflict or disagreement focused on ideological issues that aren’t meant or taken personally.
Healthy debate can only occur if all are held accountable to conduct themselves well with conflict AND to always have the larger organizational interests at the forefront. Companies such as GE demand it as part of their corporate culture which is relentlessly oriented towards winning in the market place. Good conflict skills can be an important investment in a team’s effectiveness that in turn, can bring true bottom-line benefit.