How Leaders Handle Team Conflict to Make it Constructive

Blocks of two team leaders compete with each other. Competition, conflict resolution

It doesn’t take a Ph.D. to figure out some groups of people perform better than others. Not only do high-performing teams produce better results, but their team members have a sense of meaning, belonging, and achievement.  

There have been many great studies about what makes a team successful, but maybe none better than Google’s two-year study called Project Aristotle. Google’s research team found that the best teams were effective because they worked well together, regardless of who was on them. The five characteristics of enhanced groups include; Psychological Safety, Dependability, Structure and Clarity, Meaning, and Impact.

The most essential of the five was psychological safety. All psychological safety means is when team members feel safe to take risks and be vulnerable in front of each other. 

Bad leaders and teams are void of this crucial element because they look at being vulnerable, taking risks, and speaking up as negative instead of positive. It’s precisely why they never meet their potential and achieve their biggest goals. 

The best leaders and teams embrace constructive conflict. 

What’s interesting about psychological safety is that it’s impossible to achieve unless the leader and team members embrace the idea of constructive conflict.  

Three Types of Team Conflict

Conflict, by definition, is an escalation of a disagreement between two parties. It comes from the Latin word “Con” meaning together, and “Fligere” meaning to strike. While the definition is simple, what I have found coaching and working with leaders and teams for over a decade is there are three types of conflict:

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What Leaders and Teams Can Do to Have Constructive Conflict

Both high-performing teams and great leaders realize the only way to successfully have constructive conflict is for every team member to work toward a shared goal. The moment a team loses sight of the shared goal is the moment constructive conflict begins to fade away.  

The moment a team loses sight of the shared goal is the moment constructive conflict begins to fade away.

Take a small startup working in the eCommerce industry, as an example. The eight-person team was in a feverous debate (in Slack of all places) about their branding and modifying their company logo. In just a few slack messages, the discussion heated up, and each team member was passionately communicating the reasons for their particular position.  

As the conflict began to rise, it started to get a little personal, so I sent a short reminder message: Conflict on a team can be good! As long as we can remember, we want the same outcomes.

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Kudos to this high-performing team because they quickly pivoted from deconstructive conflict to constructive conflict by reminding each other of their shared goal and passion for the mission they were on together. 

Relish the Conflict, But Stay Kind and Curious

While some people’s personalities lend themselves to avoid conflict and others run towards it, a common desire is to be treated well in a disagreement. In Mareo McCracken’s new book, Really Care for Them, he wrote, “Nobody likes to be told to be quiet, or to be calm, to shut up.”

Not only is he right, but it’s also an essential part of constructive conflict. Being kind and recognizing that each person is a human with feelings is easy to forget in the heat of the moment. Great leaders recognize this and speak the truth, but they do it with empathy and humility.  

Great leaders speak the truth, but they do it with empathy and humility. 

As hard as it might be, putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and communicating the truth is what the best leaders do. They recognize they aren’t above someone else, and there will be times where they will be the one who needs truth spoken into their life, so leaving their ego out is required. They rely heavily on the trust they have earned with their team in the small daily acts, so people will let them say hard things.

How to Embrace Constructive Conflict as a Leader

If you lead a team, you might think this sounds good, but there is no way this type of constructive conflict will work on my team. Instead of assuming it won’t, try to embrace the following: 

  1. Establish a Shared Goal – Where is your team going, and what are they working every day to accomplish?
  2. Ensure Everyone is Committed – It’s one thing to have a goal; it’s another thing for each team member to be committed to achieving it. 
  3. Invite “TVD”– “TVD” stands for the truth, debate, and vulnerability. If team members can leverage facts, discussion, be vulnerable in front of each other, success is in your future.
  4. Debate Doesn’t Mean Decision – Debate doesn’t mean the decision. On a recent episode of Master of Scale with Reid Hoffman, he covered one of Ray Dalio Principles about conflict; “Make sure people don’t confuse the right to complain, give advice, and openly debate with the right to make decisions.”

Closing

When you invite constructive conflict into your team and relationships, they will get better. The only question that remains is will you be the kind of leader who does it?

In the comments, please tell me how you invite constructive conflict on your team or organization.

Effective Communication for Leaders Ready to improve your communication skills? Register for the virtual workshop.

Free Downloadable Coaching Cheatsheet There is nothing easy about coaching. So we put together a list of eight of the best coaching questions to help you. Download it for free here.

About the Author John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company helping executives and managers to lead their best. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success. You can follow him on Instagram @johngeades.

How to Win the Post Pandemic Talent War

talent

You can’t lead without people. Unfortunately, many bad leaders forget this simple truth. Instead of investing in and developing solid relationships with those they get the opportunity to lead, they complain, blame, and act as if people are disposable.  

While no great organization would advocate with this as a sustainable approach, it wasn’t the worst talent strategy for decades. Countless professionals were looking for employment, and those employed were scared about keeping their job. This put the power squarely in the hands of organizations.

However, the current environment has shifted dramatically, and the power of employment is now in the hands of talented professionals, and the best companies recognize it.  

The current talent environment has the power of employment in professionals’ possession, and the best companies recognize it.  

Research suggests that between 55% – 70% of professionals are actively looking to change jobs. Most professionals who have left or are thinking about going aren’t walking away for a small pay raise. They are walking towards leaders and companies who care about them and add value to their lives beyond a paycheck.  

Great companies change the lives of their team members, not just their bank account.

While no company or leader is perfect, there is a long list of companies going above and beyond to positively change the lives of their team members. Chick-fil-A, Movement Mortgage, Lippert Components, and Cora Health come to mind, to name a few. Creating a culture that changes the lives of their team members sounds obvious; putting it into action is a much different challenge.  

Retention Rules.

On average, employee turnover costs organizations between 1x-2x a year’s salary once they have been in the organization for over three years. A Google study found that the average employee that turns over within one year costs about $50,000. The cost of turnover is expensive, and retention is essential.  

Most leaders and organizations grasp this, but instead of implementing formal retention efforts, they go with the “Next employee up mentality.” This is a powerful mantra that many of the best sports teams live by when a player gets hurt or can’t play for another reason. Not only is it a good one, but it’s true. Every single person is replaceable, and no one is trying to change that.  

However, in a talent market like our current one, retaining high performers and great team players deserves a dedicated strategy corporately and implemented by each manager. 

The key to retention is for front-line managers to behave like leaders.

All Turnover Isn’t Bad.

One of the most significant mistakes leaders make is that believe they have to retain a team member that hurts their culture because the talent pool is limited. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Team members who aren’t willing to sacrifice their interests for the team might seem to help in the short term, but they hurt in the long run. 

There is never a good time for a leader to retain selfish team members.

Now contrary to popular belief, people do change. Especially when it comes to grasping the consequences of one’s actions. If a team member is struggling to meet or exceed the standard required to be a part of a team, make them aware. Then coach and give them a chance to make adjustments before deciding to move on.  

Be Proactive Around Talent.

A recent Korn Ferry study found by 2030, there will be a global human talent shortage of more than 85 million people, resulting in $8.5 trillion in unrealized annual revenues. This means the talent shortfall is here to stay, and the employment market will continue to be hyper-aggressive. What’s required to thrive in a hyper-aggressive talent market is proactivity in seeking and developing people.  

Lawrence Bossidy said it well, “nothing we do is more important than hiring and developing people. At the end of the day, you bet on people, not on strategies.”

Not only is Bossidy right, but it’s also never been more critical than it is today. A relentless approach to seeking talent and an equally persistent effort to develop people inside the organization are required to succeed today.  

A relentless approach to seeking talent and an equally persistent effort to develop people inside the organization are required to succeed today. 

Closing

The “how-to” strategies to improve retention, good turnover, and successful recruiting are endless.  If you want to know if your organization is doing a good job, look for these as proof:

  • Leadership development programs
  • Best in class technology tools
  • Core values highlighted in the hiring and promotion process
  • Culture of coaching and mentoring

I hope that instead of blaming, complaining, and acting as if people are disposable, you will do your part to make a difference in people right where you are.  Use the opportunities in front of you to “bloom where you are planted” because that’s exactly what the best leaders do. 

Effective Leadership Communication: Ready to improve your communication skills? Register for the virtual workshop.

Free Downloadable Coaching Cheatsheet There is nothing easy about coaching. So we put together a list of eight of the best coaching questions to help you. Download it for free here.

About the Author: John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company helping executives and managers to lead their best. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success. You can follow him on Instagram @johngeades.

Why the Best Leaders Are Listeners and How to Become One

Listening with attention

There are many vital things leaders must do to improve the performance of their teams in 2020. One of them, without question, is psychological safety.

Google’s Abeer Dubey, director of people analytics and Julia Rozovsky, a people analytics manager, led a two-year study called Project Aristotle, which evaluated 180 Google teams, conducted 200-plus interviews, and analyzed more than 250 different team attributes. Rozovsky outlined the five key characteristics of enhanced teams, and one of the most important was psychological safety.

There are many ways for you to create psychological safety, but one of the best ways is to be an effective listener. Of all of the great leaders I have studied, I have yet to find one who isn’t an effective listener. A great example of this is Jason Lippert, the CEO of Lippert Components. He’s highlighted in Building the Best because he takes listening seriously. For instance, he holds regular “listening sessions” at different LCI Plants to ensure his executive team not only knows what his people need but can look for ways to provide it.

Lippert’s actions are brilliant because as Andy Stanley famously said, “leaders who refuse to listen will eventually be surrounded by people with nothing helpful to say.” 

Which begs the question, if listening is so essential, why are so many of us bad at it? The answer is complicated, but it boils down to not understanding the difference between hearing and listening.  

The difference between hearing and listening

A mentor of mine always told me, hearing is through the ears but listening is through the mind. In short, hearing is an ability, listening is a skill. You have to make a choice to listen to the ideas and perspectives of others instead of just hearing them. When you do this, you will have found one of the keys to leadership because:

How well you listen determines how well you connect, and connection is key to leadership.

If you struggle to listen, here are a few tips to help you develop the skill. 

Anchor Yourself

You can’t listen until you are anchored into a conversation. Put away your phone or any distractions. If, for some reason, that isn’t possible because of other priorities, be honest and remind yourself you need to come back to this when you are able to anchor yourself.  

Consider What Others Are Saying

There is too much going on in today’s business environment for a leader to know it all. Ensure that when others are providing ideas, you are truly considering what they are saying and not thinking about how you are going to respond. 

Prove You Listened

While the implementation of every idea isn’t possible, testing the idea or discussing it in more detail rather than disregarding is a great sign you listened.  

What are the strategies you implement to prove to others you listened? Tell us about a leader who is a great listener. What do they specifically do to show you?

A question to ponder: If I asked your spouse, “Are you are a great listener?” What would they say?

Get the #1 Best New Management Book to Read in 2019 by Book AuthorityBuilding the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success is published by McGraw-Hill. Learn the stories, principles, and tools to help elevate the way you lead others.

About the Author: John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company that exists to turn managers into leaders and create healthier places to work. He is currently booking events and speaking engagements for 2020. John was named one of LinkedIn’s 2017 Top Voices in Management & Workplace and was awarded the 2017 Readership Award by Training Industry.com. John is also the host of the “Follow My Lead” Podcast, a show that transfers stories and best practices from today’s leaders to the leaders of tomorrow. You follow him on Instagram @johngeades.