I recently presented a keynote (Leading Teams) for the NJ Learningforward Conference. (Power point available here. ) One topic I explored was supporting teams using elements I had pulled from Patrick Lencioni’s book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. I chose to take his dysfunctions and present them as areas of concentration for team builders, leaders, and facilitators.
In this blog I’ll explore the concept of “learning to work through conflicts.” The lead article in Learningforward’s Winter 2014 issue of Tools for Learning is titled, Build a Culture that Nurtures Productive Conflict. The author Anthony Armstrong opens with a quote from Bernard Meltzer:
“If you have learned how to disagree without being disagreeable, then you have discovered the secret of getting along-whether it be in business, family relations, or life itself.”
My finding is that few teachers have received any training in the verbal skills of productive conflict. Teachers, who openly handle facilitating conflict among students or with parents, tend to choose avoidance when it comes to colleagues. Hence, Lencioni listing avoiding conflict as a source of dysfunction on a team.
Armstrong proposes that conflict is an element of learning. So a professional learning community should expect conflict to be present as they explore, learn, decide, and do. I envision conflict similar to resistance that builds muscle in physical development. Without a resistant force to push or pull against the muscle can’t develop. Without resistance to my initial thinking or solution I am unlikely to improve it.
In a blog post , Conflict Can Be Positive and Productive, Laura Stack wrote:
Some level of organizational conflict is actually desirable — it’s not always dysfunctional. When conflict exists, it generally indicates commitment to organizational goals, because the players are trying to come up with the best solution. This in turn promotes challenge, heightens individual regard to the issues, and increases effort. This type of conflict is necessary. Without it, an organization will stagnate!
If you can approach conflict positively, it can:
• Improve the quality of decisions
• Stimulate involvement in the discussion
• Arouse creativity and imagination
• Facilitate employee growth
• Increase movement toward goals
• Create energetic climate
• Build more synergy and cohesion among teams
• Foster new ideas, alternatives, and solutions
• Test positions and beliefs
When I am working with groups where conflict emerges, here are two strategies I look to consciously employ:
Focus on the goal/outcome where there is consensus. The common outcome goal reminds folks that while we may differ in “how” or “what strategy to use” or on the timeline, we have agreement on “why”. If we don’t have consensus on the goal, we need to back up and address purpose that unites the team.
“Ok, everyone is looking to have students make maximum growth during the class days we have left in the year”
“We are agreed that while we need to dedicate extra time for some students to master this concept, our plan needs to allow those who have mastered it to extend their learning.”
Rephrase any participant’s negative phrased comments to positive ones. By phrasing don’t, won’t, and can’t as want to and need to, your facilitation can lead into a solution oriented/consensus direction.
Participant: “There isn’t enough time to complete that process by the deadline.”
Facilitator: “You see value in the process if we can create the necessary time.”
Participant: “The students won’t invest the time to see the project through to completion.”
Facilitator: “You see it as a valuable learning project if students make the investment to complete it.” …. “You believe we would need to gain commitment from the students before we’d decide to proceed.”
As instructional leaders when you hear conflict think facilitation.