When Conflict is good: The 5 dysfunctions of a team

FiveDysfunctionsWhen I visited the US a few years back, I was interested in Nicole Davis mentioning a number of books the USA Women’s program gave the players to read. They were:

Since these books and authors kept popping up in a lot of sports literature, I thought I’d read them They’re all worth reading). I’ve written about the first 3 books and finally got round to reading 5 Dysfunctions of a team.

Some interesting things about the book:

  • The assertion in the book is that conflict plays a crucial role in the health of a team. People need to have their opinions heard before they can buy in and commit to an idea they don’t necessarily agree with. And if people don’t buy in, then it’s a lot harder to hold them accountable to the goals of the team and the responsibilities they have been given.
  • For the right kind of conflict to occur, people need to have trust. The kind of trust that is needed is trust that their vulnerabilities will not be used against them when voicing an opinion or holding others accountable. A fear of appearing vulnerable is a big inhibitor to a healthy team
  • The book is written in the negative. It gets confusing in that it first presents these ideas in the negative before explaining how the concepts can be used in the positive.

5-Dysfunctions-of-Team3

Certainly it all makes sense, and since reading it, I have made an effort to get teams I am involved with to have more open discussion and let the whole group hear when someone disagrees with something. Before I tended to think of conflict as a bad thing and it was part of the coach’s job to make sure people always got along and diffuse arguments where possible. Now I think it’s about encouraging the right kind of arguments.

It’s the kind of conflict that Abraham Lincoln used in his Team of Rivals cabinet and the Dutch have been using to be a football powerhouse for decades.

Having an opinion, engaging is healthy debate and being open with conflict are all part of western liberal democratic thinking. I’m not sure it works so well in countries where the culture is hierarchical, to get along and not cause conflicts with your team and superiors. Are these cultures susceptible to groupthink and the lack of innovation, creativity and commitment that more conflict-comfortable enjoy? Or is there another way?

I remember a few years ago I joined a volleyball club in South Australia to learn how their men’s team had been consistently successful for so long with varying pools of talent. I expected to learn a system that could re-applied but was surprised to find there wasn’t a clear system they had used over the years. In fact the players and coaches argued over just about everything, but it was out of that conflict that created a culture with a high volleyball IQ and buy-in for whichever system they used at the time.

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