Whether you work in a large corporation, a small business, or a non-profit, collaboration is increasingly heralded as a way to win. With benefits like increased engagement and productivity of team members, and a better product or experience for the customer, most organizations are sold on the necessity of cooperative work.

Simply put, organizations that don’t effectively collaborate will lag behind those that do.

But here’s the rub…increasing collaboration doesn’t inherently reduce conflict. In fact, when we put an assortment of personalities together on a project we’re likely to produce more conflict! As Harvard Business Review says in “Want Collaboration? Accept – And Actively Manage – Conflict,”

This can come as a surprise to even the most experienced executives, who generally don’t fully appreciate the inevitability of conflict in complex organizations.”

In truth, “you can’t improve collaboration until you’ve addressed the issue of conflict.”

Forbes reports the typical manager spends 25-40% of his or her time on conflict (“Conflict Resolution: When Should Leaders Step In?”) This equates to one to two days a week!

And what does it cost? $359 billion, according a widely reported study.

“Unresolved conflict represents the largest reducible cost in many businesses, yet it remains largely unrecognized” according to Controlling the Cost of Conflict, by K. Slaikeu and R. Hasson.

So, if conflict is a necessary ingredient for collaboration, but it costs so much, what’s the goal?

In short, we’re looking for productive conflict (which preserves everyone’s dignity, and leads to better outcomes, and a healthier climate) rather than unresolved conflict (which strangles productivity, stifles team work and tanks the overall climate of the work setting).

How can you anticipate and manage conflict so that it’s productive?

This may be a surprise, but it’s critical to start talking about conflict before it happens. In “How to Preempt Team Conflict”, HBR posits that

“When you surface differences before a team starts work—even when the group seems homogeneous and harmonious—you can preempt destructive conflict.”

The good news is, there are terrific resources to identify areas of likely alignment and friction. You can use assessments to spot land mines before anyone steps on them! Proactively plan a time for structured dialogue around the assessment results, before the team gets task-focused, in order to:

  • talk about differences
  • establish understanding
  • begin building trust

At Converge, we’re impressed by the new DiSC Productive Conflict assessment, which allows team members to identify their particular productive and destructive behaviors in conflict. A team start-up workshop can allow each team member to discover their conflict tendencies as well as those of team members.

When people learn to identify and curb destructive behaviors they’ll become much more productive. And happier!

Is it pessimistic to overtly anticipate conflict? We don’t think so. We agree with HBR’s statement that

though setting aside time for these conversations up front might seem onerous, we’ve found that it’s a worthwhile investment for any team – new or old, C-suite or frontline – that will be collaborating on significant work for an extended period of time.

Do you have a team that’s in start-up phase? Or a team that’s stuck? Take a look at the DiSC Productive Conflict report (sample report here) and workshop. The report offers highly personalized content to increase self-awareness around conflict behaviors. This helps team members effectively respond to conflict situations, which ultimately improves workplace relationships and results.


Introducing Productive Conflict

Struggling with conflict on your team? Please reach out to us. We’d be happy to help optimize your teamwork!

Introducing Launch!

An innovative manager development cohort