Positive Conflict

20509366_f6660c76c8_z

I never saw conflict as a bad or negative thing. For me, conflict is a way to put everything on the table for comprehensive clear discussion.

By Heather Schlegel (Founder & CEO, The Purple Tornado)

There’s this idea that any kind of conflict is bad, is something to be shied away from. To avoid at all costs. I don’t think anyone particularly likes an argument, but to me, passionate conversations, arguments and even conflict are a healthy part of interpersonal communications.

My favorite “conflict” story comes from working with my favorite Dev team. The team was full of amazing genius software engineers. We were a small company building brand new technology and our small set of users didn’t yet get the full understanding of how to use this new paradigm. A cross-functional team met (mostly engineering, myself, our tech writer and the head of Marketing – about half the small company).

The very passionate discussion lasted a week. We met for 2-3 hours every day, hashing out the problem, exploring possible solutions, vehemently arguing for and against these solutions. There was some pretty empassioned discussion for this one little feature. One engineer was not backing down on his proposed solution. It was not the most elegant or beautifully designed solution, but it was probably more effective than the others proposed. We finally all agreed to test it out and evolve it as we iterated the product.

This week long passionate discussion ended with real solutions. Additionally, I felt a stronger rapport with the team. I had argued for a solution that was not chosen; but when I made my argument, everyone listened, we had a discussion around pros/cons. The same happened with the other solutions presented.

The team I was a part of allowed open, dissenting opinions. Responded to them with respect and exploration. We were all there to create the best product we could; and we did. In the process, I had the best team experience of my entire life.

I still think back to that group of software engineers. I’m friends with many of them today. They were hands down the best team I have had the honor to work with.

I was reminded of this story a few weeks ago while reading The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.

One of the five dysfunctions is:

Fear of conflict — seeking artificial harmony over constructive passionate debate.

Reading this clarified a personal conflict – seeing conflict as a bad thing (what society tells me) vs my direct experience with positive conflict. I never saw conflict as a bad or negative thing. For me, conflict is a way to put everything on the table for comprehensive clear discussion.

Not everyone is going to have the same opinion – especially if you are working on something cool and new. Teams have to have a mechanism for voicing, listening, addressing and exploring the topics where there is disagreement.

Effectively doing this creates a stronger team. I experienced this directly in the story above. But I didn’t understand the mechanics and why this happened until I read The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. It’s a great book and I highly recommend it.

I care about execution and getting results. Along the way, there is bound to be some disagreements. I’m a passionate individual and I like to work with other passionate and smart people. (An A team player hires other A team players.) We don’t always agree. That’s totally fine.

I like to work with people who have different perspectives, knowledge and skillsets from myself. When I am a leader, I work to create the space and comfort for my team/crew to voice their disagreement/concerns. And I have to be comfortable listening to them. Sometimes it’s not easy. :) But it’s worth it, because in the end, we make something that is awesome.

And that is what I want. An awesome team, empowered to make the most awesome thing we can and delivering something that is better than I can dream of – because it’s a collaborative activity weaving together the strengths of everyone in the team.

This post was originally posted at Heather Schlegel’s blog.

Photo credit: Leo Reynolds on Flickr.

About the guest blogger: Heather Schlegel is Founder and CEO of The Purple Tornado. She is best known by her online presence, heathervescent, and her longstanding consultancy, The Purple Tornado, where she explores the intersection of technology, culture and identity. Schlegel started in Silicon Valley in the the mid-90s, helping to build and launch over 50 Internet products at over 30 startups. Follow her on Twitter at @heathervescent.