“Mining” for Conflict

How often do you find people talking in the corridors about what happened in a meeting, saying things like, “I didn’t really agree with x or y?” This can be so destructive and such a waste of time. Teams, especially leadership teams, need to have regular constructive conflict to survive and thrive. Your meetings must be engaging, challenging and productive. Too often meetings oscillate between artificial harmony, where an idea is proposed and the level of apathy means it is not challenged (the corridor conversations follow), or the pressure is bottled up to a point where heated exchanges take place (destructive). There is a point between those two, where constructive conflict takes place.

Promoting conflict in teams sounds rather counter-intuitive I know, but it’s important that it happens. Let me explain. The only way people commit to actions (unless they are in fear of their boss) is to buy in to them. Patrick Lencioni has a great phrase “you don’t buy in unless you weigh in.” In other words, our meetings need to have everyone’s opinions on the table, they need to be honest and challenging, the team must then weigh into the discussion to a conclusion and when the decision has been reached, then we all need to go with it.

So how do you create a level of trust so strong that people are willing to challenge without fear of reprisals or personal digs? Well firstly it has to start at the top: the leader and the top team, must set the example. It all starts by creating what is called ‘vulnerability-based trust.’ This is not the sort of trust where I trust you to do something I have asked you, rather it is trust built on a shared opening up of ourselves to each other, where we show we are human, make mistakes, have insecurities and sometimes need help and support. Showing Vulnerability is a strength not a weakness and as a leader we need to go first.

There are some great exercises you can do to start to build the right level of vulnerability-based trust in teams. If you are just starting your journey to build trust, tread carefully and don’t go in for a deep dive trust exercise, rather you should start with a simpler one that the team can build on the next time they are together. A sign-in at the start of every meeting is a great way to start. Ask people to score their last week or month out of 10 for their part of the business, and if you feel confident, ask for a score for ‘personal,’ too. Then ask for a two-minute narrative to explain their score. Suddenly people start to talk, people challenge others as well as praise them for a job well done, people become more open and meetings are taken to a new level.  The longer you do this for, the stronger the team becomes and the better the results will be.