What Happens when Teams Avoid Conflict?

Working with executives and their teams is my privilege and honor. I’ve observed the best of courageous leaders who lean into conflict within their teams and experience amazing breakthroughs. I’ve also witnessed good leaders who avoid conflict and let the issues fester underground. Those issues are either pushed aside, leaving the team in ambiguity and feeling insecure, or groupthink occurs. At some point those issues become the elephant in the room and, with diminished trust and effectiveness, everyone dances around the elephant.

Over the years I have seen executives and their teams commit to building a strengths based culture. They are more understanding of where each other comes from and their work is more collaborative. Many times, this means they don’t reach the point of conflict as often.

Strengths based teams are not immune to conflict avoidance. Leaders need to be vigilant in creating a solid team with a diversity of strengths.

This is part 2 in the 5-part series on Dysfunctional Teams by Diana Gabriel, Certified Strengths Strategy Coach.

Teams, Groupthink, Strengths-based Culture, Fear of Conflict, Lack of Trust, Conflict, Confrontation, Criticism, Reprisal, Discomfort, Strengths Intelligence Culture, Productive Debate, Grow Trust, Consensus, Authentic, Strengths, Strengths Based Leadership, StrengthsFinder, Leadership Coach

Teams can get used to feeling uncomfortable when they see you being comfortable with conflict. Click To Tweet

It impedes their effectiveness. A survey found that 91% of high-level managers believe teams are the key to success. But the evidence doesn’t always support this assertion. Many teamwork-related problems remain hidden from view, including fear of conflict, the second dysfunction of Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team (Jossey-Bass, 2002).

Fear of Conflict in Teams
Lack of trust within a team easily leads to fear of conflict, confrontation, criticism and/or reprisal. When teammates and leaders are seen as potential threats, people adopt avoidance tactics. This sets up an artificial harmony that has no productive value. There is no true consensus, just a risk-preventing sentiment of yes feedback. True critique is avoided. Genuine solutions are not explored. The team functions poorly.

This dynamic creates an environment ripe for allowing a domineering team member to take over, with a unilateral-control mentality. Dominant personalities believe they are always correct. Anyone who disagrees is wrong and disloyal. Independent ideas are stifled. And, when negative feedback creates discomfort, interdependence does not exist. Spirits, self-confidence, and self-esteem eventually plummet, crippling group performance.

As a Strengths Coach I am in a position to hear from leaders who either deal with or avoid team conflicts. And many leaders, like you, don’t feel comfortable or competent dealing with disputes. But, as a leader, you must model for your teams that discomfort is sometimes part of the process of progress and innovation. To some degree, teams can get used to feeling uncomfortable when they see you being comfortable with conflict. It’s part of doing business and a key dynamic among coworkers.

A Strengths Intelligence culture with training can help you, and your team, encourage productive debate without hurting feelings or wounding character. Trust grows, and difficult ideas can be processed to reach consensus on solutions. Once again, it is up to you as a leader to set an example by developing this vital leadership competency and skill.

To recognize when you and your team members are agreeing too quickly is just as important. You’ll need to assess whether consensus is authentic. Teams often avoid discomfort by falling into groupthink. Instead of debating solutions, members “go along just to get along.”

What’s been your experience with how conflict has been handled in teams? I’d love to hear from you. I can be reached here and on LinkedIn.


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