healthy conflict in teams

The two main types of conflict, healthy and unhealthy, have several identifiable characteristics. An excellent definition taken from the Small Business Chronicle Houston states that “Healthy conflict builds team bonding by causing those involved to change their attitudes and grow personally. It also results in problem resolution due to increased involvement of all affected team members. This contrasts with unhealthy conflict where team morale is destroyed and team members become divided and polarised. Unhealthy conflict leaves the problem unresolved, and leaches resources and energy from the core project at hand.”

There are many ways to encourage healthy conflict and debate in your organisation. Human resources expert, Susan Heathfield* shares ten really practical ways to make this happen. They are summarised below:

10 ways to encourage healthy conflict in your organisation:

  1. Make sure you set clear expectations to encourage healthy conflict. This should be part of your company culture.

  2. Reward, recognise, and thank people who are willing to take a stand and support their position. It is often scary to express an opinion which is different from that of the group. Make sure everyones opinion is respected and valued, even if you don’t agree.

  3. If you experience little dissension in your group, look at the way you communicate. If you want to avoid “group think,” but this isn’t happening, do you, non-verbally or verbally, send the message that it is really not okay to disagree? Do you make employees feel uncomfortable when they express an opinion, particularly one that is different to your own? It might be worth asking a trusted member of your core team for some feedback if you are unsure.

  4. Expect people to support their opinions and recommendations with data and facts. Are staff members are encouraged to collect data that will illuminate the process or problem?

  5. Create a group norm that conflict around ideas and direction is expected and that personal attacks and bullying are not tolerated. Group norms are the relationship guidelines or rules group members agree to follow. They often include the expectation that all members will speak honestly, that all opinions are equal, and that each person will participate.

  6. Provide employees with training in healthy conflict and problem solving skills.

  7. Look for signs that a conflict about a solution or direction is getting out of hand. Exercise your best observation skills and notice whether tension is becoming unhealthy. Listen for criticism of fellow staff members, an increase in the number and severity of “digs” or putdowns, and negative comments about the solution or process. Are secret meetings increasing?

  8. Hire people who you believe will add value to your organisation with their willingness to problem solve and debate. Behavioural interview questions will help you assess the assertiveness of your potential employees.

  9. Make bonuses dependent upon the success of the organisation as a whole as well as the accomplishment of individual goals. Pay senior members of the organisation part of their compensation based on the success of the company. This ensures that people are committed to the same goals and direction. They will look for the best approach, the best idea, and the best solution, not just the one that will benefit their own area of interest.

  10. If you are using all of the first nine tips, and healthy work conflict is not occurring you need to sit down with the people who report to you directly and with their direct reporting staff and ask them why. Some positive, problem solving discussion might allow your group to identify and rectify any problem that stands in the way of open, healthy, positive, constructive work conflict and debate.

You can read her full article, including examples here


Working with your team

There is only one way to learn. It’s through action. Everything you need to know you have learned through your journey.

Paulo Coelho

There will be times as a business owner when things don’t go according to plan. In fact, things might go terribly wrong. Never waste a good trial. That’s a great motto but it’s also important to reflect on what you are learning in the midst of a difficult season. Whatever you learn, it is important to write it down, because these lessons could become invaluable later in life. Here’s what I’ve learned from dealing with extremely difficult situations in the past.

"Communicate, communicate, communicate – especially with your team. Whatever is happening, is happening to them too and the more information they have the more they support you." Matt Edmundson

Foundations matter. Build solid foundations when things are going well, establish the culture and be intentional about it because when things get tricky, you really rely on that culture. If the culture is right, you and your team will respond with courage and poise rather than panic and self-serving.

Create space for yourself. As the leader, you need to be clear and full of faith – because everyone is looking to you. Their courage is feed by your courage. You need space, a lot of it, to process what you are going through. It is tempting to work all of the hours and get caught up in the detail. You can’t afford to do that, as tempting as it is. Now is the time to lead. So lead.

Journalling really helps!

Be honest, real and vulnerable but at the same time, be strong and faith-filled. People value both sides of the coin. You can’t be “the whole world is caving in” and not offer hope. At the same time you can’t be “everything is fine” when it clearly isn’t. Tell the truth, attractively. Tell the truth, faithfully.

Never underestimate how loyal customers are to a great company. If you have worked hard to get the foundations right and offer the customer a great service, you will have loyal customers. They will stick with you. They will trust you.

In your efforts to restructure, protect and rebuild your business – never forget the basics: your values, your customers and your team. Do that with an eye of commercial viability and it will work.

Deal with today. The short term is where the horror is, the medium to long term is where the hope is. Don’t put off dealing with today because of what you think might happen in 2-3 months or even the next year.

Triage. Asses the situation. Deal with those things that have the most impact, give your attention to that. Get everything down to the basics, forget the periphery and get the core strong again. Re-prioritise and do that very quickly. Let people know what they should be doing, and get them on it quickly.

Watch what you say. People are looking to you and your words. Don’t blame. Remember the rule of forgiveness. It is what it is. Complaining never solved anything. Deal with it, move on. There are plenty of opportunities waiting for you in this new arena. You’ll never find them complaining or being negative for very long.

Be decisive. Now is not the time to second guess yourself. Make the hard decisions. Make them quickly. Stick with that decision and move on to the next. If it really is apparent that you have made the wrong decision, change course quickly. But don’t do that unless absolutely necessary. You will create confusion in you, your team and your customers.


Start with your team

Another essential area that determines the success of any business is the team. I believe the power behind any great company, including an e-commerce company, is its team. You don’t loose this fact just because your shopfront is online. The team might look different to a traditional team – but you still need a great team!

Hire for culture, not necessarily competence

Building the right team is essential and that involves finding the right people that are aligned with your company culture and have the necessary skills. Competence is the first thing that people usually look at when hiring new team members. And all the documents required in a traditional hiring process, such as cv and covering letter, are geared around proving how competent you are at a job. Don’t get me wrong, people do have to be competent but that’s not the only aspect to look at, it’s important to get the culture right as well. Sometimes the right person is not always the most competent person. Be sure to focus on the culture aspects of your business throughout the application and interviewing stages to help you find the right people for the role.

Remember, when you first start out a lot of the roles and responsibilities will fall on you, so you have to wear the right hat at the right time. But you need to determine which roles need to be hired based on what kind of business you are trying to build.

Where is the area of greatest weakness?

Don’t hire on jobs you don’t like to do. Hire on jobs that should be done by someone else better than you. Also, be creative with job titles and avoid the word ‘manager’ whenever possible!

In any e-commerce business every member of staff is/or should behave as if they are customer-facing in some way. Therefore there is a need to maintain internal trust relationships with sales staff in order to enhance the trust relationship with the customer. E-commerce businesses cannot afford for internal trust levels to fall too dramatically, as poor trust relationships may start to affect the customer experience. The customer-facing employees need to be able to positively represent the decisions of senior managers to customers, not disown them or even sympathise with customer complaints.

In my next blog post I’ll discuss some ideas around conflict in teams and how to navigate in difficult times.