Conflict: A key attribute of a high performing team

The highest performing teams recognise the importance of healthy conflict and actively seek to encourage it in the pursuit of the best ideas and solutions….

When you think of the word ‘conflict’ what is most likely to spring to mind is ‘fight’ or mean spirited argument and naturally most people want to avoid that, especially at work. However, that’s not what I am talking about, and the Collins Dictionary states that conflict is: ‘Serious disagreement and argument about something important.’

This type of conflict is what high performing teams are engaging in – open discussions and heated debate about issues and decisions that are important to the team. Some teams are wary of this type of discussion because they are uncomfortable with the conflict that might arise. However, conflict can be both healthy and productive for a team, as long as it remains focused on issues and solutions and not on people.

What does healthy conflict look like?

This is when team members will openly challenge each other, they will question a decision and they will respectfully disagree and give reasons and evidence for their difference of opinion. This is all done in the spirit of finding the truth and the best answers.

Productive conflict is when a leader invites everyone around the table to speak up, encouraging them to share their opinions and ideas and allowing them to feel heard. When there is trust on a team, individuals will feel able to be honest and not just agree because it’s their boss.

The most astute leaders will notice non-verbal cues that tell you when someone disagrees but isn’t speaking up and they will encourage them to share their opinions and reasons for disagreeing because they know how important it is to hear all perspectives.

Why is conflict necessary?

  1. When you explore all ideas and involve diverse perspectives, together you will create new options and you will increase the team’s likelihood of generating the most effective solution.
  2. If quieter voices don’t get the opportunity to speak up and share their ideas this can lead to frustration, victim behaviour and a lack of commitment to decisions.
  3. It’s crucial that you confront and resolve important issues early on so that they don’t get left to fester and boil over into something worse later on.
  4. It’s essential that everyone’s ideas are heard and listened to because your team are more likely to buy in to a decision if they have been a part of the decision making process.

We will all have varying levels of comfort with having these kinds of conversations and debates and healthy conflict will look different from team to team and organisation to organisation. The key is this – I’m not talking about negative interpersonal mean spirited conflict, I’m talking about productive ideological conflict, focused on concepts and ideas, that’s a good thing on a team. What is important is that no one is holding back their opinion and people are not weighing up the cost of speaking up, because surfacing and dealing with conflict will improve performance and can transform relationships on teams.

If you would like to find out more about our work with teams and how you can build trust and encourage your team to embrace healthy conflict then please get in touch, we’d love to chat.


Healthy Conflict in Teams
Healthy Conflict in Teams

Published: Friday 17 June 2022
Written by: Anna Hemmings, MBE, OLY.