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Following on from Working Solo and in a Team, this meditation discusses how to handle conflict in teams, so that everyone is pulling in the same direction.

Vulnerability and Trust

I'm a genius and always the smartest person in the room. I also am the greatest expert on every topic ever as soon as I've thought about it for at least five seconds, none of my subordinates could possible know more about anything than me so I should always be micromanaging them and telling them exactly what to do in every situation, and if you think what I said blatantly makes no sense that's just because you are so simple compared to my vast intellect. Well, if we failed in our goals it's obviously the fault of all my various subordinates and not me, because after all, I'm awesome!

-- perldigious describes a dysfunctional manager he once worked for

Vulnerability and trust are crucial to good teamwork. Everyone in the team needs to be vulnerable. Everyone. To freely admit: "I don't know the answer", "I need help", "I stuffed up, sorry". Sadly, just one team member with a toxic attitude, like perldigious's dysfunctional manager above, destroys teamwork.

Reinforcing points made in Psychological Safety, Patrick Lencioni, in a talk on Team Dysfunctions, gives some real-world examples of teams becoming dysfunctional when just one team member could not be vulnerable. And it's worst of all when that one non-vulnerable team member happens to be the team leader.

How to get everyone in the team to be vulnerable and acknowledge their weaknesses? According to Patrick, there is only one way: The leader must go first!

Why is vulnerability and trust so important?


Without trust, conflict is politics. With trust, conflict is the pursuit of truth.

-- Patrick Lencioni in The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

Conflict is normal. Conflict is expected. Part of the human condition. Handling conflict effectively is the primary reason why trust is so important in teams. Without trust, conflict tends to become personal or political; with trust, conflict is the pursuit of truth, finding the best solution.

It's vital for the team to not hold back, to disagree passionately when required. To be honest to each other. And respectful. Is arguing a "waste of time"? No! No argument means no commitment! Of course, the arguments must be focused on finding the best solution, never personal or political.

Disagree and Commit

Intel has a saying: Disagree and Commit. Curiously, without disagreement it's difficult to get commitment and cohesion. In general, when people have a chance to express their point of view and have its pros and cons heard and appreciated, they are more likely to accept and support a differing approach.

In contrast, conflict that persists after the group has made a well-examined decision is often harmful. At a certain point in a project, the potential benefit of changing approaches is less than the disruption caused by changing direction. At that stage, commitment is required. Early disagreement is welcome, but then the team must unite behind a shared goal.

-- Disagree and Commit: The Risk of Conflict to Teams

Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit. Leaders are obligated to respectfully challenge decisions when they disagree, even when doing so is uncomfortable or exhausting. Leaders have conviction and are tenacious. They do not compromise for the sake of social cohesion. Once a decision is determined, they commit wholly.

-- Amazon 13th Principle

Though Intel and Amazon share the same "Disagree and Commit" slogan, they appear to have a different emphasis. Intel emphasize teamwork and cohesion (when people have a chance to express their point of view and have its pros and cons heard and appreciated, they are more likely to accept and support a differing approach) while Amazon focus on faster decision making ("I know we disagree on this but will you gamble with me on it? Disagree and commit?") and innovation (for more innovation, you need disagreement, not consensus).


Peer-to-peer accountability is the best kind of accountability. When people don't commit, they don't hold each other accountable. Leaders must be willing to hold people accountable, not just on quantitative issues (KPIs), but behavioral ones too.


References Added Later

In reply to Conflict in Teams by eyepopslikeamosquito

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