Mastering Team Conflict

Teamwork doesn’t always come easy. To be a strong and cohesive team, team members must trust one another and be able to engage in healthy team conflict.  Mastering team conflict is the second key behavior in The Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team™  model.

Trust is a prerequisite for mastering conflict. Only team members who trust one another are going to feel comfortable engaging in unfiltered, passionate debate around issues and decisions. Otherwise, they are likely to hold back their opinions. That’s not to say that some teams that lack trust don’t argue. It’s just that their arguments are often destructive. Team members aren’t usually listening to one another’s ideas and then reconsidering their points of view; they’re figuring out how to manipulate the conversation to get what they want. Or they don’t even argue with their colleagues face-to-face; instead, they vent about them in the hallway after a meeting is over.

In his book The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team, when Patrick Lencioni speaks of mastering team conflict, he is talking about productive, ideological conflict—the passionate, unfiltered debate around issues of importance to the team.

Teams that fear conflict:

  • Have boring meetings
  • Create environments where back-channel politics and personal attacks thrive
  • Ignore controversial topics that are critical to team success
  • Fail to tap into all the opinions and perspectives of team members
  • Waste time and energy with posturing and politics

Even among the best teams, conflict is always at least a little uncomfortable. It is inevitable that at some point someone will feel personally attacked. It’s unrealistic for a team member to say, “I’m sorry, but I don’t agree with your approach to the project” and not expect the other person to feel some degree of personal rejection. But if team members are not making one another uncomfortable at times, if they never push one another outside of their emotional comfort zones during discussions, it is likely that they’re not making the best decisions for the organization.


*Based on Patrick Lencioni’s book “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team”, and “The Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team”.  “The Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team” is a trademark of John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Tom Sullivan is an authorized partner of The Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team.

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