Conflict can be a scary word. Human instinct makes people not only avoid conflict with others, but also causes them to gravitate towards individuals who are most like them, creating the least potential for conflict. This mentality may have helped our Neanderthal ancestors avoid an arrow to the heart, but today it inhibits a team’s strength and strategy.
However, with the right players on a team conflict can be constructive, even beneficial for the stimulation of new ideas. Conflict may create tension, but in the right context, it can also ensure that a team has the essential characteristic of diversity. There are seven reasons why a manager should encourage constructive conflict to get the most out of a diverse team:
- It Demonstrates Confident Team Members: When conflict occurs in a team, a manager can at least be assured they have brought together people unafraid to challenge others. A diverse team will inevitably expose new ideas to certain members of the team. When these ideas are discussed, a sense of value will create a more engaged and assertive team.
- Different Ideas will Improve Your Team Effectiveness: While some do not fully embrace the benefits of diversity, it is widely accepted by the scientific community that diversity makes a more effective team. McCombs management professor Dr. David Harrison became a leader in research involving diversity in organizations. According to Dr. Harrison, with the effective type of diversity he identifies as variety, conflict can be a sign of an effective team. With no visionary in the group, productivity lacks.
“You don’t need to avoid a fight. What you need is for someone to feel good after a fight.” Dr. Harrison said.
- Natural Leaders are Identified: Respectful arguments in teams allow managers to more easily recognize the individuals in the group with unique ideas, a confident voice, emotional intelligence and strong leadership qualities.
Dr. Harrison identified “disparity” as an ineffective type of diversity as it sparks conflicts that will not generate productive results. In a team exhibiting disparity, a member or part of the team exhibits too much authority. This reduces conflict because certain individuals lack a voice. Dr. Harrison said, “There has to be someone who has final authority and responsibility – the decider. But maximizing disparity (inequality) is not good. You want to reduce disparity in teams, but I don’t think you need to reduce it to zero.”
- Conflict Generates Adaptability: With technological innovation and an increasingly connected global economy, the business environment is ever changing. Therefore managers should work to create a team that can be adaptable – has the ability to learn new skills. According to research done by The University of Central Florida, adaptability has a cultural aspect, and thus connected to having a diverse team. “Cultural diversity will…impact the decision making process…they are likely to be engaged in information seeking behavior.” Conflict allows the team to get through disagreements by having the ability to deal with the new and unexpected, seeking information in the process.
- It Keeps the Team on Their Toes: When a team member voices an opposing thought, it challenges those team members who get too comfortable in a leadership role. According to “An Introduction to Group Communication” by Phil Venditti and Scott McLean, “Encouraging deviates is one measure a leader can take to promote constructive conflict which brings a group to a higher level of understanding and harmony.” A team that falls into a cycle of never challenging new ideas can easily become unproductive.
- Conflict is Natural: People are often taught to get along with others but in a business setting, accepting differences and using them to a team’s benefit generates effective teams. A manager should ensure that constructive conflict is occurring in a team that results in beneficial results.
- It Marks a Communicative Team: When an environment allows people to generate different ideas, this creates a more open team that will be more comfortable with each other and respect each other. Harrison noted in his “How Smart Managers Make Diversity Work” lecture that a counter-argument for creating variety in a team brings up communication: He said, “If we all come from different background, we might not be able to talk to each other. So it is important to design a team that can coordinate and is designed based on the task.”
Conflict doesn’t look so frightening when a manager strategically designs a team to be diverse and pays attention to the type of conflict that occurs. The presence of conflict should not result in frustration, but engagement for leaders. Therefore, when a manager notices conflict in the team it should be seen as an opportunity for breakthroughs not broken noses.