The Importance of Conflict

(1) Activate – “the warmup”

This is the warmup part of the program. It is designed to get us thinking and prepare us to chew on this week’s topic so that as we digest it, we can use what we have learned to make a impact on our teams.

This week’s topic is…


The Importance of Organizational Conflict


Few leaders have the courage to embrace organizational conflict and the awareness to facilitate it within their teams.


Most leaders are either conflict seekers or conflict avoiders, but the best leaders are conflict facilitators. One of the marks of every great team is the presence of healthy conflict. Leaders who embrace the right kind of tension understand that the right kind of friction can spark a wildfire of success.


Here are a few of the questions we will tackle this week:


• Why is the right kind of conflict important?


• What does the absence of conflict say about your team’s culture?


•  How can I become a conflict facilitator?


• Whats the cost of avoiding conflict?



(2) Engage – “the workout”

Remember that great leaders are conflict facilitators.


Leveraging Conflict

Leaders can make the mistake in believing that the absence of conflict is the sign of healthy culture, when in reality the opposite is true.


In actuality, the absence of conflict can be a sign of creeping internal rot that has the potential to eat away at the organizational integrity of your team. Don’t be fooled by this common fallacy.


Here are three principles that will help you foster a healthy culture by leveraging the power of the organizational conflict.


Conflict precipitates growth

One of the enduring principles of intimate relationship is the necessity for conflict. The greatest, most enduring relationships are always built on a healthy mix of love, care, and constructive conflict.


You can never be truly known or truly loved until you have journeyed through the choppy waters of conflict in your closest relationships. The cycle of conflict – disagreement, discussion, and resolution -with your closest friends adds layers and complexity to your relationships as you gain a better understanding of what makes the other person tick.


After cycling through this process hundreds, even thousands of times, your relationship grows from infancy to maturity. It leaves the realm of relational niceties behind and transitions to a deeper understanding of the other person. Conflict is often the conduit that reveals the truth about ourselves that we have no way of seeing.


We need both truth and love in order to grow in our relationships and as people. As popular author Tim Keller once wrote,


Love without truth is sentimentality; it supports and affirms us but keeps us in denial about our flaws. Truth without love is harshness; it gives us information but in such a way that we cannot really hear it.


The penetrating tandem of truth and love both reveals our flaws and keeps us in relationship with one-another. To build a great team you need both.


Conflict Builds Trust

When a leader is able to facilitate spirited, honest discussions with their team a foundation of trust is established. Team-members that feel the freedom to speak freely develop a collective sense of unity.


The team is no longer “playing politics” which builds trust between team members. According to one author,


Politics is when people choose their words and actions based on how they want others to react rather than based on what they really think.”


When teams become “politicky”, a false sense of harmony takes over which creates a dangerous tension.


Think of this tension like an overstocked refrigerator. When no one is able to say what they think, they experience the same dread you feel when you open your fridge and are greeted by a mess of leftovers, expired food, and families of condiment bottles – how DO 4 different ketchup bottles in the same place?


The longer you put off cleaning your refrigerator, the messier it become. In the same way, the longer your team keeps their opinions to themselves, the more the tension grows and the messier your team culture becomes in the long-run.


Conflict Drives Focus

The right kind of conflict centers around the discussion of ideas. When leaders are secure enough in their identity they create a marketplace of ideas where team-members feel confident to challenge the idea without undermining the person. This is crucial when it comes to facilitating conflict: great leaders make sure everyone understands that its never personal.


Once a team puts aside their egos and personal agendas they are able to move forward with incredible conviction and focus. Kicking around ideas in the context of honest discussion galvanizes a team to move forward with a unified strength and force of will. The right kind of conflict always drives focus.


(3) Assimilate – “the cool-down’

Ok, so we know that constructive conflict has massive benefits for your team. Constructive Conflict;


  • Breeds Trust
  • Drives Focus
  • Creates a Culture of Honesty
  • Improves Performance
  • Brings Teams Together


Next Steps

A culture where conflict is accepted has to begin and end with the coaching staff. If the players sense that some part of the staff is not in lockstep with the head coach, this sets a precedent that avoiding conflict is OK (even if they see an issue).


Public Fans, Private Critics

The goal for your program is to have your players and coaches that are huge fans of the program in public while having the freedom to criticise the program behind closed doors (for more on this concept click here).


Privately, you want your team members to have the courage to speak out and engage in lively debate about what is BEST for the team. But once you leave that meeting room or office, you want everyone to be united in whatever direction you have decided to go.


Here are 4 guidelines for embracing constructive conflict on your team


(1) Start with Your Leaders

Give your leaders (i.e. coaches, captains, upperclassmen) the most opportunity to approach you with ideas about how the team can improve. Once you get on the same page they can set the tone for everyone else.


(2) Avoid Public Conflict

If you see a player or coach get frustrated during the course of a practice or game, avoid confronting the issue in the moment. Most of the time this turns out to be “destructive conflict” not “constructive conflict”. Address the by asking the player or coach to meet with you at a later time which will give you both time to process and cool-down from whatever emotions are present.


(3) Rip off the Bandaid

Good leaders are able to recognize when someone is hiding their emotions and lacking emotional honesty. When you see this, its time to rip off the bandaid. When a bandaid is left on too long the skin underneath it starts to shrivel up and die. If you can get through the pain of ripping off the bandaid, your skin can breath and start to heal. In the same way, if you have to get over the pain of constructive conflict so the healing can start.


(4) Give others the Opportunity to Criticize You

As the leader you can set the tone for constructive conflict when you open up your own ideas to criticism and review. When everyone sees that there won’t be repercussions for “questioning” the leaders idea, they will be more confident to say what they really think. In the long run your team will be able to filter out bad ideas and harvest the good ones, which will raise your level of performance.


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