We are all familiar with the pearl starting life as the irritating grit in the oyster that is coated with nacre (mother of pearl; the inner iridescent shell) to make it smooth over time. Ultimately the pearl becomes a thing of beauty and value. This is a great metaphor for teamwork. The aim for developing a team is not to eliminate conflict or the grit but to discover the potential for innovation within the conflict that exists, to mine for new ideas that can deliver more valuable outcomes.
Working within an executive team with colleagues from different disciplines and backgrounds is a highly engaging challenge. Rather than seeing this as a competitive game, the aim of the leadership team is to debate the differences until the best solutions emerge – whoever or however the insight is discovered. Allowing for this type of constructive dialogue ensures team members are aligned because their ideas have been heard.
Let’s be clear though, we talk about conflict, we don’t mean the personal kind – there’s never a place for that behaviour in leadership.
Many team’s worry about this and so shortcut their greatest asset, their differences. They either avoid conflict altogether for fear of offending others or engage in group think which is just as limiting. There is often the belief that there isn’t time to work through all the differences, so leaders agree for speed, to make shorter meetings and an easier life. This only works in the short term. Over time decision-making becomes stale and lacking innovation so that when a crisis hits the team have not built the methods or the practice to be creative and respond well.
The alternative is to fully embrace the diversity in the team, work with the conflict inclusively and productively to deliver decisions that recognise the value of people’s different perspectives. This allows the breakthrough to new ideas and opportunities that many organisations need to seek in the post pandemic world.
To develop team working in this way requires a collective mindset where leadership is a collaborative dialogue between equals. The development of vulnerability-based trust early in the team’s development is the lubricant that lays down the layers of opalescence to create the pearl that all leadership teams aim for – high performance, emotional agility and compelling leadership visions.
Remember the Conflict Value Chain:
Diversity delivers difference
Difference exposes alternatives
Alternatives cause conflict
Conflict creates opportunities
Opportunities offer choices
Choices develop strategies
Strategies deliver outcomes
And if some of those choices are new based on the conflict that you embraced positively as a strength – your leadership team will become polished over time, effective as well as efficient.