Last time, we summarised the three major sources of team conflict identified by leadership expert Annie McKee (insecurity, desire for power and habitual victimhood). I’d like to explore what can be done to prevent these patterns from undermining and sabotaging the healthy team conflict of debate.

Firstly, conflict should be seen as pervasive and inevitable – no two individuals are ever identical (even if they’re identical twins), and these differences simply multiply when we’re operating as part of an ensemble of other people. Cooperation and collaboration based on awareness of healthy conflict/difference will be far more creative and productive than denial.

However, to prevent conflict from becoming hurtful and distressing, a culture of mutual empathy is crucial – a responsible awareness of the role and effects of aggression on others as well as on ourselves. Teams that have powerful reserves of compassion and empathy are better able to utilise their aggressive potentials productively, without humiliating or narcissistically disregarding the contribution and feelings of colleagues.

The healthy team conflict of debate is premised upon an understanding amongst participants of what drives their colleagues, what they’re insecure about, how it would feel to be like them, etc., not “running on autopilot” and letting biases and stereotypes govern thinking.

Finally, we should accept that feelings matter and they require self-awareness if they’re to contribute to, as opposed to undermine, team endeavours. That means being honest about what we’re insecure about and why. It also means bringing our emotional reactions into conversation with our rational selves: if we’re insecure about something, are we being rational when we find ourselves encountering it everywhere we go?

Additionally, we need to be aware of how we feel about power, our own and others, and our tendency to put ourselves in a victim role.

These are the issues I engage with in my facilitation work. The kind of self-awareness I aim to cultivate isn’t superficial; it’s deep. It helps not only individuals but also their colleagues and their organisation.

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