Dealing with conflict – establishing the ground rules

Note: This blog post is a work in progress, it explains where we’ve come from and where we’re currently at and we will update this post in the future with what we’ve learned.

As a management team here at True Clarity we’d all read Patrick Lencioni’s ‘Five Dysfunctions of a Team’ and felt we’d spent a good deal of time building up trust within our team and felt confident we had no fear of conflict.

Our meetings certainly never felt devoid of conflict – there was often passionate debate and raised voices but was it really healthy or were we displaying the classic signs of artificial harmony?

We were seeing signs of ‘passive aggression for example team members not saying what they really felt (either agreement or dissent), ‘forgetting’ to do things the team  they had committed to do, ‘blaming’ of other people or teams for our problems and a general lack of anger or frustration being exhibited.

There were areas that there seemed to be an unwritten rule about which were ‘off topic’ for discussion especially if they related to an area of the business individual team members felt responsibility for or felt were someone elses responsibility.

In order to address this we had a Management Team ‘Mastering Conflict’ meeting last week and decided we needed to just have a frank, open discussion about our understanding of conflict and what we were comfortable with.  After everyone had had their say we drew up a set of ‘Conflict Rules’.

Management Team Conflict Rules

We hold each other accountable for:

  1. The basics (being on time for meetings, no mobile phones or laptops)
  2. Staying results (outcome) focussed
    • Not rambling
    • Keeping on topic etc.
  3. Be Kind
    • No shouting
    • No pulling faces or other non-verbal stuff
    • Don’t talk over people
    • No bitching (observations only)
    • Refrain from banter in meetings (meetings should be professional and formal environments)
  4. No hats (explicitly only) (This means that whilst we may have different roles e.g. company directors, heads of departments that when in these meetings we act for the needs of the many/group goals not our individual goals)
  5. Getting Naked (See Patrick Lencioni)
  6. Everyone gets to talk and listen

Time will tell whether we are able to hold each other accountable to these rules and call each other out if we break them.  Early indicators are that this is not easy and definitely something we need to practice!

Update 10th May – Anecdotes & Tolerance

So how are we going following our conflict rules.  Well we’re all learning to communicate better with each other.

We have found that sometimes people are unable to express themselves clearly in a meeting or are unwilling to pitch in, particularly if things are getting heated.  We have found that writing anecdotes in the third person and making those visible have made it easier for people to say how they feel or what they think in a more considered way which is a good way to open up a dialogue.  We hope that in time these won’t be necessary and we’ll have evolved as a team to an extent where we can say anything at any time.

We have recognised a need for tolerance in the team.  It’s important for us to catch an emotional response in ones self as a sign the other person is trying to communicate better. We need to focus on what is trying to be said (with best intentions) and not try and assume someone is saying one thing and meaning another.

We need to be able to notice fear in the team.  Fear of people disengaging if someone says the wrong thing. or fear of the angry “shout down” if they say the wrong thing.  However recognise we all need to be able to “say the wrong thing” so we can learn to communicate better.  Not saying what you feel/think won’t help the team learn.  We hold ourselves accountable for being honest.

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