What Role Does Conflict Play on Your Team?

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Grizzly Bear (Ursus arctos)If you’ve ever worked on a team, you probably have a story of how conflict kept your team, company, or office from accomplishing its goals or getting anything done. Conflict can negatively affect the most talented of team members and bring things to a grinding halt.

On many teams, conflict is a something that is avoided at all costs. After all, conflict is bad, right? Not always. Conflict can play an important role in a healthy team. In fact, unless the people on your team has the exact same opinions on every issue, there will always be some level of conflict. The question is, what role does conflict play on your team?

Option 1: Conflict is avoided at all costs

On some teams, conflict is avoided at all costs. Usually, the root cause is a dictator-like team leader who demands allegiance to him and his ideas. There is no point to bringing up a differing opinion—no matter how minor—because people who don’t get in line often find themselves looking for another job.

Option 2: Conflict separates the weak from the strong

The role of conflict of some teams is to determine who the leaders are and whose ideas get pushed to the front. On these kinds of teams, infighting is common, and winning an argument is the only way to be heard and get noticed. Those at the top get there by winning battles and often through dubious means.

Option 3: Conflict helps navigate a confusing environment

Likely one of the most common misuses of conflict occurs when team members have unclear expectations and roles. On these teams, conflict frequently occurs among team members because their objectives, strategy, and roles are unclear. The lack of clarity and direction drives team members to create clarity where there is none. At times, team members may unknowingly be working on projects that actually are working against what their teammates are trying to do. Frustration often mounts with little intervention from the team leader, the person who should be giving clarity to the team.

Option 4: Conflict move things forward

The first three options of the role conflict can play on your team are all negative. But conflict can play a positive role on your team. When a variety of opinions are welcomed for the purpose of accomplishing a common goal or mission, teams are characterized by passionate discussion. Sometimes that means team members have very strong opinions, but that doesn’t mean that the conflict can’t be healthy. When there can only be one way forward, healthy teams find a way to work through differences of opinion in a way that’s best for the organization. You’ve probably already connected the dots, but this is the preferred role of conflict on a team.

The point is this: every team will have conflict. That’s just the reality of working with people. If you’re a team leader, however, you get to decide what role conflict plays on your team. Will conflict crop up when you’ve neglected to bring clarity to your team or you haven’t led well? Or will conflict play an important and constructive role on your team?

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