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Embracing Conflict: The Path to Innovation and Growth

Drawing on over 20 years’ experience working with a wide range of organisations across both the public and private sectors, we observe that individuals across all roles and levels can find it difficult to engage in healthy conflict with their peers. Often, the mention of conflict conjures images of disagreement, discomfort and stress. This then results in avoiding conflict of any kind and a sense of artificial harmony forming within teams who are focused on remaining ‘nice’ or ‘pleasant to work with’. While being pleasant and nice is not fundamentally ‘bad’, it can inhibit us from having the difficult conversations that are required for progress and growth.

The benefits of engaging in healthy conflict often far outweigh the risks. It is a key capability for leaders and team members to practice and strengthen, as it allows us to engage in more constructive conversations and improve accountability. It enables leaders to encourage and draw on cognitive diversity within a team for increased innovation, creativity and effective problem-solving. It can create disagreement and discomfort; however, these often go hand in hand with growth and progress.

Conflict arises from differences – be it in opinions, ideas or approaches. While personal conflicts based on interpersonal issues such as differences in values, personalities or preferences can be disruptive, task-related conflicts are a platform for innovation. These conflicts encourage team members to challenge the status quo, question assumptions and explore new ideas. In our experience, engaging in healthy conflict with peers also builds deeper relationships and strengthens their approach to a cohesive way of working.

But how do we do it?

Leaders play a crucial role in shaping a climate where healthy conflict is not just accepted but actively encouraged. The key lies in creating an environment where team members feel safe and valued, ensuring that conflicts remain focused on tasks and ideas, not personal grievances. Over time, developing this climate builds a culture of healthy conflict.

Here are some strategies to promote healthy conflict within your organisation:

Many leading companies have recognised the value of embracing conflict. Google, for example, encourages ‘disagree and commit’ as a principle, allowing team members to voice differing and divergent opinions but commit to decisions once they are made. This approach has contributed to Google’s culture of innovation and its ability to continuously evolve.

Rethinking our approach to conflict can transform it from a feared obstacle to a valued opportunity. By embracing conflict, organisations can unleash the creative potential of their teams, leading to innovations and sustainable growth. The path forward is not to avoid conflict but to engage with it constructively, recognising it as a vital element for better performance.

In the journey towards innovation and growth, embracing conflict is not just a strategy but a necessity. Let us shift our mindset, engage in meaningful and healthy disagreements, and harness the transformative power of conflict to drive high-performance and outcomes.

Ready to take the next step and encourage more healthy conflict in your team and organisation?  See our customisable ‘Unlocking the Power of Healthy Conflict’ Module here.

About the author

TMS Consulting