Culture Bites 018 - Is Conflict in Teams Good or Bad

Published on 21 Aug 2018

We talk about how effective teams navigate conflict, solve problems, and get through the ‘groan zone’. This episode of the podcast is host by Corinne Canter and Dominic Gourley.

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Below is a summary of some of the key points from our discussion. Make sure you listen to the podcast to get all of the examples and deeper conversations about the below points!

Microphone Key Takeaways and Ideas

We've just released the Real-Time GSI. It measures team behaviours and gives feedback on how the team interacts together in real time. With that release, we’ve been getting a bunch of questions on teams and teamwork. So much of our work in organisations is done through teams – so it’s important that teams are operating effectively together to get things done.


Conflict in Teams: Good or Bad?

Conflict is a bit of a taboo. On one hand we don't want conflicts – we want to get along and for there to be harmony in the group – but if we can't have conflict it means we can’t get to the best ideas because we don’t constructively challenge and build.

‘Conflict’ isn't bad, it's just how you manage it in the moment. The more defensive we get around somebody disagreeing with us the harder it becomes to actually talk about the real issue that needs to be discussed. having the ability to talk straight and respectfully with each other - having constructive feedback and constructively challenging ideas is at the heart of effective teams.

It's really tempting to be on the passive side because you’ve got to work with these people every day. Often this type of ‘harmony’ is only an illusion – the issue is that the disagreement doesn't disappear - it's just not talked about. In a Passive/Defensive team, you get a lack of quality in the solution because there's not enough debate. We don't challenge ideas, we don't debate ideas, we're not exploring lots of solutions or options we just go with the first suggestion.

If you've got a team that's got an Aggressive/Defensive norm, you're going to have a lot more competition between team members about who's right and who's idea is going to win. You can get a lot of debate, but not necessarily constructive debate. Instead of working together to come up with the best solution, it becomes about point scoring and looking good.

What we're trying to do with real-time GSI is give teams an opportunity to reflect on how they work together as a team. It's like holding a mirror up: “how did we go trying to solve that problem? What did we do well, and where did we get stuck?“


Team Problem Solving Processes and Behaviour Discussion

Often teams aren’t clear on a process for how to solve problems. One thing we do is teach a six-step problem solving technique called ‘The Problem Solving Circles’. We get them choose a business issue to talk about and we'll put a time limit of 45 minutes to an hour.

What we're interested in is seeing what happens when the team has a discussion where everybody's got ‘skin in the game’. We sit and observe and at the end of the time frame we stop and ask the team to talk about effective that discussion was on a scale of 1-10.  We then get the Circumplex mat and ask them to take a position about where you felt the team spent most of its time during that discussion. We're trying to get people to reflect their view of the group and start a conversation.

We’ll use the problem-solving circles as a way to get them to reflect on which of the steps do they do well and where they get stuck. The first thing is defining the problem breaking it down into its essential components and identifying the objectives and the outcomes that you're looking to achieve. Next is identifying your options and generating multiple options and exploring them. Only after getting the ideas out do you start evaluating which of the options are actually going to give you the best chance of achieving the outcomes. Then it's making a decision.

A framework like this is useful for a team because clashes usually indicative that their problem-solving process is not working for them. When people have a process or a framework to solve problems, it stops them from getting into fault and blame language it gets them out of the story and it gets them talking about the pattern. When the team can notice the pattern, and can name it, then they’re going to notice when you’re doing it. It gives you a chance to circuit break the behaviour.


Getting Through the 'Groan Zone'

A myth about high-performing team is that they always get on. One of the things that we need to get used to is that there are groan zones. The Groan Zone for teams is around how people process and perceive information differently from us. If you've got five six (sometimes ten) people that all have a different piece of the puzzle and all have a different way of seeing the world. Some people think quickly, some people are extroverted, some people are reflectors, some people are introverts. You've got all of that in the room and invariably there's a topic that might be on the table and some people are familiar with it and the groan zone happens if some people aren't familiar and they need to go over the topic and talk about it a bit longer.

The groan zone is thinking ‘you know, I'm across it, why do we have to talk about it?’ The groan zone is the friction that occurs when we're not lining up.  It’s normal. We oughtn't expect that effective teams don't have groan zones, they do. What marks an effective team from a less effective team is that they're able to navigate the groan zone, they're able talk about it.

You've got to have enough of a constructive relationship to value each other, so that when somebody says “you're not hearing me you don't get what I'm saying” that the other person cares enough about that to hit the pause button and ask a different question. What happens when teams get into conflict, when they're not navigating it well, they go to their respective positions and they don't have a language for regrouping and meeting in the middle. You've got to give up your ego and you've got to give up wanting to be right. You've got to be prepared to hit the pause button. Teams that work best have a language to navigate those heated discussions.

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Corinne will be talking about teams at this year’s Australian conferences in Melbourne and Sydney this September. Register your spot today.

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Listen to more Episodes of the Culture Bites Podcast:

001: Kick Starting a Passive Team
002: Dealing with Delegation
003: Telling Someone They have a Blind Spot
004: What's Wrong with Being Competitive?
005: I have a Competitive Teammate – Help!
006: What is a Toxic Culture?
007: How Leaders Impact Culture
008: Is Culture / Climate / Engagement the same thing?
009: My Manager is Resisting Culture Change
010: How the Banks got here
011: Myth Busters: If I’m not Aggressive then I must be Passive
012: How Culture Works Pt1 – Overview
013: How Culture Works Pt2 – Mission, Philosophy, Structures
014: How Culture Works Pt3 – HR Systems
015: How Culture Works Pt4 – Job Design
016: How Culture Works Pt5 – Leadership
017: Rebecca Kardos, CEO Aurora Energy


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