Do you congratulate yourself on the fact that your team never argues or even disagrees with each other? Hold on. That might not be a good thing.
Results from a study of 55 executives teams by consulting firm RHR International found that while internal cohesion and psychological safety are important to executive team performance, they are not the most critical at the enterprise level. Rather, it is the team’s ability to manage conflicting tensions—as opposed to seeking agreement—that predicts top-team performance.
Even if you don’t lead an executive team, you know that conflict happens on most teams at all levels of your company. Indeed, with the emphasis on creating diverse teams, it’s likely that the different backgrounds, experiences, and expertise will lead to more wide-ranging points of view.
The trick is not to avoid conflict, but to understand that disagreement is often a step in the conversation process on the way toward understanding the larger system you within which your team operates.
Field #1: Politeness
In this field, team members are minding their p’s and q’s, making sure not to be seen as negative. In this stage, people do not necessarily say what they think in order to keep the peace and the appearance of playing “nice”. At this point, team members work to maintain the appearance of being a cohesive team by not “rocking the boat”. Nothing new happens in the field of politeness, so it’s likely that team members leave a conversation that stayed in this field with their expectations met. Same ol’ meeting, different day.
Field #2: Breakdown
During a team meeting or discussion, it’s probably not uncommon from your team to move to the field of breakdown. You know you’re in breakdown when individual team members begin to assert their individual points of view (POV). In this field, tension in the group begins to rise as group cohesion dissipates and individuals debate, defend, and argue about the merits of their assertions, credentials, experiences, and facts known to them. When team conversations end in this field of breakdown, team members leave the conversation with awareness or new information from other POVs that challenge assumptions and information they knew coming in. When team members begin to realize that there is a different way to look at the issue or their own part in the issue/situation that they hadn’t thought of or realized before.
Field #3: Inquiry
In inquiry, team members begin to reflect on their own perspectives as parts of the whole, rather than the only or the “right” perspective. In fact, in this field team members gain a new perspective. They begin to ask questions out of curiosity about what they truly don’t understand, instead of asking leading or charged questions to convince others to see their points of view.
Field 4: Flow
The team enters level four feeling like a cohesive group again co-creating new ideas that move within the group. The team sees the bigger picture or system because of its awareness of multiple POVs. You’re in this field when energy and inspiration is high in anticipation of something new being created. Team members leave the conversation feeling like they have become different people who are more connected to who they are meant to be.
As a bonus, fill in the form below to download a graphic detailing the four fields of conversation. This tool is useful in teaching your team how think and work together for break-through results. You and your team will learn to move from conflict to creativity and innovation more effectively.