Healthy conflict? Yes, it is possible. In fact, it's essential for highly effective teams.
Conflict is healthy when it's aim is to improve the outcomes for the team. It's healthy when it's respectful and not personal. It's healthy when it's out in the open, visible to all members of the team and available equally so everyone can safely participate.
Healthy conflict requires openness and an ability to entertain others' ideas. Team members need to set aside ego and avoid becoming defensive in order for conflict to be healthy.
The benefits of creating a team atmosphere that embraces healthy conflict are numerous and profound.
5 Benefits of Healthy Team Conflict
1. Healthy Conflict Is A Sign Of Trust & Security
Teams often attempt to avoid conflict because it feels negative and counter-productive. The negative associations with conflict cause us to over-compensate by dodging disagreements altogether.
While group harmony is a noble aim, true unity comes when team members trust each other enough to discuss (even debate!) issues fully. When members of the team feel secure enough to express dissenting opinions, a firm foundation of trust results. On the contrary, if people don't feel safe enough to dissent, trust in the team and its decisions will diminish.
2. Healthy Conflict Invites Diverse Points of View
Mining for conflict ensures that all voices will be heard. Team members need to make each other feel safe enough to share differing opinions and alternative approaches. For some, voicing a dissenting opinion feels too risky. Seeing that healthy conflict helps the team and does not harm dissenters will liberate more voices and draw out more points of view.
3. Healthy conflict surfaces potential issues
With more ideas, opinions and viewpoints, the team will have more to work with. This includes the surfacing of more potential problems -- good to know and consider early on!
4. Healthy Conflict Builds Commitment
When conflict is suppressed and people feel they haven't been heard, commitment to action items will be superficial. To get true commitment and an "all in" investment from team members, it's imperative that everyone's voice be heard and everyone's ideas be weighed by the group. It may take more time, and it may occasionally get messy, but the process of full engagement will yield deeper commitment.
5. Healthy Conflict Leads To Better Decisions
With full discussion and debate, a closer look at all the ideas and inputs, and the resulting commitment, teams will make better decisions.
When teams put too much emphasis on being expedient, they often sacrifice time spent on exploring divergent thoughts. These teams count quick decisions as "wins" and push team members to endorse majority opinions right away. The resulting "group think" and disenfranchising of group members compromises team effectiveness.