Friday, July 1, 2016

The Relationship Between Conflict and Trust in Teams

How Conflict Helps Build Trust
If there is never any conflict in your organization, on your team, or in your family, one of two things is true. Either you are all in complete agreement on absolutely everything, or there is a serious lack of trust that is not being addressed, and likely doing great, possibly unseen, damage.

Since it is virtually impossible to have everyone in complete agreement all of the time, smart people recognize that lack of trust is the problem and do something that strikes fear into the hearts of ordinary mortals. They work to build trust by embracing and even initiating conflict!

There are a number of ways to prompt the building of trust  by leveraging healthy, productive, life-giving conflict, but here are four that strike me as absolutely crucial.

Identify the Demon
And of course the demon is a lack of trust. This foul creature may have gained a foothold in a number of ways, but there is only one way to be rid of it. You must name it. How is the question. One of the best ways is to gather your team for a conversation and say something like, “Today, I thought I’d try to get your insights on something that might be holding us back as a team. So I want you to take a minute to think about that and be ready to share any thoughts you have on what’s holding us back, or what might be holding you back from accomplishing all you’d like to accomplish here.”

Ask lots of Questions
While the above set-up may cause some to go weak in the knees, others will get excited and be more than willing to share openly. But some will be fearful and not want to say anything negative for fear of negative reprisals. So you must somehow communicate that nothing is out of bounds, and that the only thing that is out of line is to hold back, keeping your thoughts to yourself. It may be a struggle, but you can get people to open up by doing nothing but asking questions.
  • What do you feel is the biggest challenge we face?
  • How are we failing to meet that challenge, and why do you think that is?
  • What (not who) is holding us back?
  • What do you feel is your greatest unmet challenge?
  • What is holding you back or getting in your way?
  • If you were free to give your maximum creativity, effort and contribution to this team, what would need to change?
You get the idea. Once these thinks are in the open, you can talk about why they have never been shared before, if that is in fact the case. Or it may be a conversation about why they have never been addressed, if they have been named. Your job at this point is to assure the team that things are about to change, and you are going to set the pace.

Clarify and Challenge

Once the challenges to growth have been identified, and lack of trust revealed to be the identified demon responsible, then it’s time to introduce the call to conflict. You may say something like, “From now on, the level of trust has to increase around here. We have to know that we can speak openly and honestly to each other because the success of the team is more important the survival of the individual. So I am going to go first.”

At this point you identify one thing from each team member that they said was something they would like to do, and then empower them to do it, while removing any significant barrier that they also identified. Give them ownership and responsibility, letting them know that you will also hold them accountable. It may be that the removal of the barrier costs you a significant price, but the value of a team member who goes from giving 40% to 95% will more than make up for it.

What you have just done is shown them that if they are honest about their struggles, things can change for the better. And this will encourage greater honesty, producing healthy conflict and debate that brings out a team’s best thinking and creativity as trust continues to grow and flourish.

Establish Accountability
This does not mean that we simply allow team members to do whatever they want. It has to:
  1. serve the vision and mission
  2. align with the strategy of the team
  3. produce desired results. 
But the best results are always the product of healthy conflict and debate among team members that welcome such interaction, knowing that no matter what, each person has the other’s back, and the best interest of the team and organization at heart. Hope comes alive. Optimism and enthusiasm are unrestrained. And this kind of environment will become a talent magnet as well as a talent magnifier.

On teams where conflict is welcomed and expected, the members will quickly discover that they are capable of greater things than they ever imagined, both as a collective, and as individuals. And there is nothing on earth like leading a team of gracious but honest truth-telling debaters that know how to leverage healthy conflict.

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