Conflict in Functional Teams

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Today we have a guest editorial from Alice Smith as Steve is on holiday. This was originally published on 13 Oct 2016.

One of the essential lessons I’ve learnt from my time managing the SQLServerCentral editorial group is that conflict within a team can result in better decision making. Part of running a successful editorial machine is having lively, and open debate. This often means the editors disagreeing with each other over an approach to take, often leading to passionate disputes. When I first started managing this group, I was daunted by this level of conflict, mistakenly viewing the disagreement as a sign of dysfunction.

I’d come from a company where the conflict between teams and people created a toxic environment, where people mistrusted each other, and management decisions were influenced by the dominant characters. I’ve heard stories about similar experiences in development teams, where the next feature the team will work on is the one that’s been put forward by the loudest in the room. In these instances, decisions have been heavily influenced by one of two people, rather than the manager having the insight from consulting the wider group.

As a manager, fostering an environment of safe conflict, where people feel comfortable and confident to express their views without intimidation means that I get to hear a wide range of views and am in a stronger position to make an informed decision. Patrick Lencioni, author of the Five Dysfunctions of a Team, also champions the idea that absence of open conflict can lead to artificial harmony, which can start initiatives off on a weaker footing.

I have certainly found that being in a team with this culture leads to stronger buy-in from more people, as you’re not a bystander in the decisions being taken. Sure, this can’t happen with every decision we make, but where we’re able to take the time to truly discuss important issues, I believe teams, and managers, make more informed and well thought through decisions.

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