Constructive Conflict and Team Dynamics

Constructive Conflict and Team Dynamics

November 19, 2014
Business Skills

Do you find yourself shying away from open and healthy conflict with your peers or manager? Do you value friendly relations with your colleagues and are you proud of being a nice person who would never pick a fight? This may seem well and good, but actually doesn’t help contribute to a healthy workplace environment. Find out why - from group dynamics specialist Liane Davey, Ph.D.

Liane, what is one of the most fundamental skills or qualities that a team must have?

Teams need two things to be at their best. First, teams need a clear sense of what they exist to do and rock solid alignment among members about how they will accomplish their mandate. Second, teams need a strong dynamic with trust, communication, and diversity of thought that is brought out through productive conflict. With those two core characteristics, a team can accomplish so much. 

Why is conflict imperative to good team dynamics?

Conflict is a word that makes many people uncomfortable and our unwillingness to approach those contentious issues really holds teams back. A team that can have productive conflict is much better at innovating and also much better at identifying and mitigating risk. Teams that think too much alike tend to stick with the status quo, which is risky in our ever-changing world where expectations of our customers and stakeholders go up all the time. Now more than ever the grocery industry needs to innovate. There is no room for sticking with what’s known, what’s safe, and what’s working today. Only the high performing teams will have what it takes to break the mold 

What are some ways to cultivate the confidence to say “no,” not “take one for the team” and share what you really feel even if you think doing do is not in line with your “nice” personality?

You need to understand that it’s your obligation as a member of a team to say what needs to be said for the best interest of the team. For too long we’ve tolerated passive-aggressive behavior somehow deluding ourselves that it’s ok not to say something to someone’s face (but it is okay to say it behind their back). I like to think of it just like telling someone that they have spinach in their teeth—it’s not nice to let them walk around like that. Nor is it nice to let a teammate behave in the way that makes them or the team less effective without telling them!

Tell us a little about how bringing up a different perspective or conflicting thoughts adds unique value to a team.

One of the big ways conflict adds value for a team is by keeping opposing issues in the right tension. Great teams don’t shy away from tension, they embrace it. When you get good at having productive conflict, you can understand and appreciate the value of that tension, you can talk about what’s ideal or optimal in a given situation, and you can walk away knowing that your played your role in advocating for what matters.

Can you give us some tips on ways to deliver conflicting opinions – whether in a meeting or day to day.

With that in mind, you need to find a way to say those things in a way that’s respectful and empathetic. One of the best ways to introduce difficult topics is to use big open-ended questions instead of making assertions. Instead of “I don’t think that will work,” try saying “how will that plan land with our older consumers?”

Another way to provide a contrary perspective is to talk about your perspective as a second truth. If you re-phrase what you are hearing from them and then add your point, it will feel less adversarial and will shift both of you into problem solving mode. For example, if your teammate says that you need to start pouring money into advertising, ask “what would we be trying to drive with more advertising?” Then restate their truth and add your own. Restate their truth: “Ok, truth #1 is that we need to drive up the number of new consumer into our stores.” Then, add your own: “I think we need to invest some more money in training up our team so that we retain the new consumers we do attract. How should we proceed?”     

Anything else we should know?

Teamwork is hard work, but it’s so worth it! Remember that team dynamics can be improved when even one member of the team decides to change things for the better! 


Liane Davey is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of YOU FIRST: Inspire Your Team to Grow Up, Get Along, and Get Stuff Done. Liane combines her expertise in strategy with her deep insight into group dynamics to create powerful changes in top teams. As a Vice President of Team Solutions at Knightsbridge, she is sought out by executives at some of North America’s leading financial services, consumer goods, high tech, and healthcare organizations to help teams work better together and take their performance to the next level.

Liane has served as an evaluator for the Psychologically Healthy Workplace Awards. She is currently a member of the Board of Trustees of the Psychology Foundation. Liane’s first book, Leadership Solutions (Jossey Bass) co-authored with David Weiss and Vince Molinaro was released in Fall 2007. Follow Liane on Twitter @LianeDavey