Resolving Organizational ConflictBy
When I was much younger, I truly believed that collaboration was only made possible by an absence of group conflict. I was sold on the notion that organizational harmony was not only possible, but was the natural and inevitable result of an empathetic leadership style. Like many others in business, parenting or volunteer organizations, I committed myself to a democratic and responsive approach. I assumed that others would see the value of that approach and offer the same in return. After nearly twenty years of organizational leadership, I can say that these well-meaning suppositions were as futile as they were naive. In fact, my efforts to avoid conflict not only proved frustrating, but undoubtedly robbed my organizations of their true potential.
People are problematic. It’s just who we are. Even like-minded people bring differences to the table. Even civil discourse has a habit of exposing discord and even the world’s greatest diplomat will be exposed to her fair share of conflict, perhaps more so. But let not your heart be troubled, this is a wonderful thing.
Disagreement is not a sign of fragility or failure within your group. Don’t let the fear of conflict temper your enthusiasm or subdue your efforts. Truth be told, conflict is not only a natural, but extremely beneficial attribute of healthy collaboration.
Disagreement exposes thoughts, strategies, initiatives and traditions to the cleansing light of proof. I can think of many examples where a wonderful-sounding idea failed to produce the intended results. Had the idea only been washed through the suds of critical examination, many well-meaning resources could have been reallocated towards more successful endeavors. Or perhaps the original idea could have been tweaked to provide better results.
Disagreement can also have a palliative effect upon group dynamics. Issue-based conflict tends to expose incompatibilities amongst teammates. Whereas healthy organizations are fully capable of using conflict to facilitate productive exchanges, unhealthy organizations find themselves degrading into unpleasant territory. Usually, this is due to one or more people who are overwhelmed by their own weaknesses. Intolerance, pessimism, selfishness, arrogance or dismissive personalities just don’t work well in collaborative environments. These are the traits of independent contractors, and they can have a devastating effect upon the atmosphere of your group. It’s best to identify them early on, and respectfully part ways.
The organization’s role is not to avoid conflict, but to become adept at welcoming it and practiced at resolving it. The leader’s role is to embrace the usefulness of conflict and to set a productive tone of civility. This can be intimidating at first and will forever present a challenge. But it is a goal that every organization should have on their short-list. There are few better feelings than that experienced after your team has breached a difficult subject, exposed it to an honest and forceful debate, and amicably arrived at a well-vetted solution. That’s power, potential and productivity all wrapped up in one. True collaboration. Go get it.
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