HOW MANAGEMENT TEAMS CAN HAVE A GOOD FIGHT
By Kathleen M. Eisenhardt, Jean L. Kahwajy, and L.J. Bourgeois III
When performed constructively, conflict among team members helps teams make high-stakes decisions quickly and effectively. Through their research, the authors found that teams can successfully leverage constructive conflict and limit interpersonal conflict by:
1. Focusing on the facts. Teams must acquire a wealth of objective and up-to-date data about their businesses and competitors so that team members can have informed debates about critical issues.
2. Multiplying the alternatives. Having only two options can polarize a team and create destructive conflict. To avoid this and encourage a healthy debate, managers must offer four to five options for team members.
3. Creating common goals. Leaders must frame strategic choices as collaborative rather than competitive exercises so that members feel as though achieving the best solution is in everyone’s best interest.
4. Using humor. Teams with low levels of interpersonal conflict use humor to relieve tension and provide a collaborative spirit among members.
5. Balancing the power structure. Interpersonal conflict is low in “balanced power structures” where the CEO has the most power, but other management members have substantial power in their own areas of responsibility and can participate in strategic decisions.
6. Seeking consensus with qualification. Conflict is managed in the two-step process of “consensus with qualification.” First, executives discuss an issue and try to reach a consensus. If they cannot, the most relevant senior manager makes the decision with the input of the rest of the group in consideration.