Conflict To Progress

I really wanted to blog last night, but then we had a team struggle where we really needed all hands on deck to work some stuff out. Our group conversation went on until 12:30 at which point I dropped out and went to sleep since we had to wake up at 5:45am, but there are always though few people in a group that don’t sleep and they finished off what needed to be done.

It was kind of interesting to see our team work through our last minute problem where we needed a new idea and summary written that night. I found even more interesting since what I was going to blog about was our leadership lecture last night titled “From Breakdown to Breakthrough!”

Based on a book written by Patrick Bencioni, there are 5 main causes for dysfunctions of a team: absence of trust, fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability, and inattention to results.

We even talked about the fundamental question to all of this: “Why do we work in teams?” There are two main reasons we work in teams when you really condense things down: a) for more hands b) for more minds. I’d argue that the second one is more important. There are sometimes when you need a team simply because the project is too big for you alone and you need more man power, but more of the time we work in teams in order to get more opinions, ideas, and even sometimes just to have confirmation on plans. Pulling minds together is what makes a team unique and effective in my opinion.

However, when working with others, one of the things that helps most is to know what people need and how to identify conflict. People need comfort, support, to know they won’t be fired for failure (#failup), and room to risk take and innovate. (There were so many things in this lecture that just made me go, “Yup, there’s those MVPS Mindsets.”) These elements will all help eliminate the 5 main disfunction’s as well as the 4 horsemen of teams: contempt, criticism (including sarcasm which brought about an interesting conversation around joking sarcasm potentially still being negative), defensiveness, and stonewalling.

Now no one I know of can just decide “You know I’m not going to demonstrate any of these ideas anymore”– I’m decently sure it’s impossible actually. However, by knowing what to look out for it can help a team avoid breakdowns in which a team stops moving forward. The questions isn’t “How do we avoid conflict?”, but instead the question is, “How do we deal with and manage conflict to preserve relationships?” Conflict is pretty much inevitable, but conflict doesn’t have to lead to a breakdown. Sometimes conflict is exactly what is needed to move a project forward because conflict occurs when someone is brave enough to challenge an opinion, and when this happens it leads to a discussion that if handled correctly could potentially improve a product for the future.

To try and work though conflict productively, our lecture leader gave some tips. It helps to be specific with responsibilities upfront so everyone knows who is responsible for what. Then clarify what the terms are like who, when, where, how, and what if the worst happens, this way everyone is clear on the plan. A mentor of our leader had this great quote, “Most conflict happens in the absence of a good conversation.” If everything is discussed and understood at the beginning then imagine how much easier it would be to discuss problems when they occur? There could be an easier conversation about what went wrong with the plan, and then the team could start work at fixing it.

Conversations aren’t always easy though. A lot of times people just want to feel understood which is why showing empathy is so helpful. If you can start statements as “I statements” where you talk about how you are feeling rather than blaming others it may help others feel empathy for you as well. Our leader also brought up an interesting tip about scheduling times to talk (setting terms for the conversation), because sometimes the problem is that people get frustrated after a certain amount of time discussing a topic, but they know they need to have the conversation. If you can work out a more frequent but shorter time to have the conversation, then maybe it will help people avoid major conflict. And we talked about these ideas with all relationships between people, not just for teams working on a project, because everyone has a lot of relationships with people that are worth staying healthy.

I think one of the key things I left with was the idea of thanking someone when they express a contradictory view/concern compared to you, because when they give you feedback it means they think you can do better. It’s an interesting mindset that I think could help people avoid breakdowns.

Overall it was really a great lecture and I’ve loved all of our leadership lectures actually (as well as the engineering ones) because they just make you think.

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