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Are you bringing together individuals with different talents, experiences, and perceptions when you form a team? Team members with different backgrounds and these diverse perspectives are a great source of creativity and innovation. 

Often, they bring differing viewpoints and opinions leading to a rich pool of ideas, solutions, and out-of-the-box thinking to reach team goals.

When diverse personalities come together, conflict is bound to happen. According to MSG, conflict is defined as a clash between people resulting from a difference in thought processes, attitudes, understanding, interests, and perceptions. Unhealthy conflict typically arises when individuals have different values, opinions, or needs and are unable to find common ground.

Conflict is quite natural, and although most people try to avoid it, it can be a good thing. 

Healthy, productive conflict is beneficial to a team and should be encouraged. When handled correctly, it’ll make your team closer, stronger, and more impactful than ever before. 


Why Conflict is Necessary for Innovation and Creativity

Conflict is an essential ingredient of a high-performing team; if it’s missing, you should ask yourself why. 

For one thing, conflict challenges the status quo. Being ‘good enough’ really isn’t good enough anymore.

Regular disagreement allows teams to question accepted norms, themselves, and each other and push beyond their comfort zones. When psychological safety is present, it gives employees the freedom to express differing viewpoints, helping build stronger relationships.

When this occurs, critical thinking is required as it allows team members to focus on the problem at-hand rather than the members involved. This thinking helps teams weigh the pros and cons of different opinions and approaches, resulting in better decision-making skills. 

The need to find another way forward forces individuals to explore new ideas, think creatively to solve challenges, and create groundbreaking solutions together. 

With healthy team conflict comes the need for better communication. Team members must be able to communicate their ideas clearly and concisely, ask questions, give constructive feedback, and speak up with any concerns they may have. Everyone must have a chance to voice their opinion and feel heard by their colleagues without feeling judged. 

Strong relationships should be able to weather friction and come out stronger on the other side. Disagreements between work colleagues are no different–by embracing a positive approach to conflict, you’re showing people you actually care about their perspectives and respect their opinions (even if you disagree with them). 

Colleagues should be committed to finding a better solution together to reach shared goals.


How to Coach Your Team Through Conflict

Healthy conflict pushes a team to get to a better place. Make sure you’re encouraging this mindset by helping your employees view conflict as a unique opportunity for growth, innovation, and problem-solving, all while building productive professional relationships. 

Help your team avoid seeing it as a negative experience and develop a fear of conflict. Teams can’t learn to be and do better without some actual conflict in the workplace.

As the world continues to evolve, the demand for better solutions to more complex problems will increase. Organizations must ensure they’re building a culture of collaboration to effectively and gracefully adapt when disagreements arise. 

If your team members are unable to travel the bumpy road of healthy conflict by themselves, you may need to step in and coach them through this difficult patch. Here are some tips to keep in mind.


Tip 1: Help them recognize and manage their blind spots

We all have blind spots–unproductive behaviors that may be invisible to us but obvious to others. As a leader, it’s important to help your people identify and understand their blind spots and their effect on the team.

Make your team members more self-aware by helping them figure out where their blind spots lie. You can encourage them to ask for peer feedback and start taking accountability for their behaviors–or making the needed changes to resolve conflict. This way, they’ll be more equipped to make better decisions in the team’s best interests. 


Tip 2: Teach them how to give feedback in a constructive, not destructive, manner

Teams should be able to give and receive feedback, but it’s got to be the right feedback delivered in the right manner. The key here is knowing how each individual responds to criticism so that feedback is phrased in the right way, ensuring each and every person has their say, and focusing on the problem instead of blaming others.


Tip 3: Facilitate discussions between team members

Take things back to basics by scheduling a meeting with your team or with the individuals who aren’t getting along. Acknowledge the tension and make sure everyone is given a chance to be heard. 

Members should be allowed to express any emotions or dissatisfaction but be sure to intervene if tempers start to rise by keeping things as solution-focused as possible. And if all else fails, once you’ve considered everyone’s opinion, it’s up to you as the team leader to make an executive decision on the best way forward.


Tip 4: Tailor your coaching approach to meet the needs of individual members

Successful teams are made up of diverse personalities with different needs and priorities, so what works for one person might not work for another. 

As an example, those that have a more sensitive approach to communication probably won’t appreciate you being too blunt or straightforward with them. Knowing your team’s needs, what triggers their stress, and their potential reaction when they become stressed will help you choose the right coaching style to suit every team member.


Tip 5: Lead by example

Build trust and credibility in your team by leading by example. Embrace conflict, acknowledge any discomfort between individual members, make a public commitment to overcome your blind spots, welcome any criticism or feedback, focus on the problem rather than placing blame, and stay open-minded in everything that you do. Your team will know you have their best interests at heart, and will be encouraged to do the same in their interactions with each other to improve team performance. 

Conflict in the workplace is key to continuous improvement and growth. Teams that actively address and learn from conflict produce the best creative and innovative results.

Continue to support your team in becoming stronger with Birkman’s High-Performing Teams Program. We’ll help your team members become more adaptable and resilient, ultimately driving creative problem-solving and better work.

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