Consensus or conflict?

Effective teams engage conflict constructively.

On one project team the members habitually went along with
the consensus once a clear majority had emerged. Typically,
when a member of the group would voice a concern, the other
members expressed impatience and a desire to move on. Rather
than expressing the specifics of his or her disagreement, the
individual with the difference would often say, “Okay, it’s
not important. Let’s move on.”

This is exactly how “group think” develops. The team members were
not only uncomfortable with engaging differences of opinion, they
sacrificed exploration for pseudo-consensus and effectiveness
for efficiency.

Even in a group of six or seven people, it takes courage to voice an opinion different from everyone else’s. There is usually a solid reason behind the difference. Instead of moving on, I suggested that they become curious and ask the person explicitly about his or her opinion and what was behind it. Often, when the other members listened to the reasons, they realized that they had all missed crucial points. Sometimes the team changed their decision, sometimes not, but in all cases they felt they had arrived at a more robust consensus.

When a difference of opinion emerges, the team needs to create the space for that difference to be explored.

Tension also arose between those who preferred to make decisions quickly and those who wanted to explore issues in depth. Members became impatient and short with each other, one person complaining that some team members wanted to talk things to death, another person protesting that more thought was needed.

“How well would this team function if everyone wanted to make decisions quickly?” I asked. Not so well, they said, because, without careful consideration of the various issues, decisions would not be sound.

”How well would this team function if everyone wanted to talk things out deeply?” Again, not so well, because all they would do is discuss issues and never arrive at decisions and actions.

Teams are effective because the team members approach issues in different ways. When members are able to disagree and explore their differences, this diversity, far from making the team dysfunctional, is the source of its effectiveness.