By Cindy Barber
President, The Dash Group
While most people associate the word conflict with something negative, it is critical to be able to have conflict on a team and in an organization. The best ideas or solutions to a problem come from situations where people with different perspectives and ideas are able to voice their opinions, respectfully debate and work together to come to a solution.
Unfortunately, conflict can cause emotions to run high and before you know it, things can spin out of control and team members react rather than respond. We have all seen it and it can get ugly. Typically one of two things happen; either people get loud or passive aggressive or shut down completely. In either case, tension is high and results are low. So what can you do to have healthy conflict?
One thing we do with clients is to help them come up with what we call "Rules of Engagement". These are agreed upon rules that are posted on posters or poster-sized post-it notes in meetings to hold team members accountable for their behavior when conflict arises. These rules help temper emotions and allow for brilliant ideas and solutions to surface in meetings.
To come up with rules of engagement for a team, it is important to create this list in a meeting specifically for this task and not in the midst of a conflict crisis. We typically go around the room and ask each member of the team what they need to feel safe to voice their opinion in a conflict. Answers typically range from a guarantee of no retribution to no yelling to not calling out an individual in front of the group. The list always includes being respectful and making sure talk revolves around the "thing" and not any one person. Non-productive behavior like blaming is typically taken off the table.
When teams consistently adhere to their rules of engagement people are more likely to speak up, listen and consider other opinions. When that happens teams are actually brought closer by conflict and brilliant ideas are born.