Creative Leadership

Conflict: Great for Storytelling but Bad for Teams

I once consulted with an organization who’s founder was absolutely obsessed with removing conflict and strife from his team. He understood how it could undermine even the best organizations so he had zero tolerance for internal criticism, back-stabbing, or other expressions of conflict among employees. Since that time, I started noticing how many leaders who allow conflict and strife to fester.

When it comes to storytelling, conflict is at the heart of a great story. There’s even room for structured creative conflict on the team when it comes to brainstorming or developing projects. But for everyday interaction, nothing kills your momentum like ongoing strife. Here’s why:

1) Conflict undermines productivity. One study revealed that typical employees spend as much as 3 hours a week dealing with conflict on the job. Plus, it’s a constant distraction that weighs on people’s minds, always lurking in the background.

2) Conflict destroys a team. Nothing kills team spirit like strife. When conflicts happen, everyone starts protecting their turf, and you can forget people working together.

3) Conflict makes customers, donors, or vendors uncomfortable. Trust me, when strife catches on in a workplace, people notice. It’s tough to hide enmity, pride, anger or bitterness – all public expressions of internal conflict.

4) It weakens your most valuable asset – your people. Your most valuable asset isn’t the widgets you make or the work you do – it’s your people. When strife enters a workplace, it destroys trust which leads to all kinds of human resource issues.

5) Finally – when your team is in conflict, the person who often suffers the most is you. Leaders bear the brunt of employee conflict because they eventually have to step in and deal with it. You have better things to do than spend your time negotiating between hurt and angry employees.

Create a no tolerance zone in your office when it comes to conflict and strife. Disagreements will happen, so be prepared to step in quickly, before it becomes full blown. Better yet – spend time teaching your team about dealing with strife so that they can put out small fires themselves, and spend more time doing amazing creative work.

Have you ever had the direct experience of seeing conflict damage a workplace?

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3 Comments

  1. So true…I adopted that policy over a decade ago and some on my team wondered why I got so direct and went after even a hint of conflict. I’m not so sure I thought out all the consequences but I knew I didn’t like it and I’m the kind of person that needs to deal with stuff quickly and keep short accounts …even when I’m wrong! It’s like the work environment equivalent of a ‘clean air act’. Thx Phil

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