Anyone for another biscuit?

It is a belief of mine that for a team to be fully functional, its members need to learn how to disagree passionately with each other and still commit to an agreed way forward.  Teams need to learn how to master conflict.  Conflict is a necessary part of human relationships in work.  It could be argued that there is far less conflict within teams than there needs to be.  I wonder how comfortable you and your teams are with this.  The health of your team could depend on it.

Back in my early days of work as a community worker I used to get invited to the Libraries network meetings.  Their meetings were always extremely pleasant occasions with people being very respectful and nice to each other.  The meetings wouldn’t commence until everyone had been offered at least 3 biscuits with their tea or coffee.  After a few months of attending I became aware that there had never once been any form of disagreement in the meetings.  This was highly unusual especially given the political nature of some of the discussions.  I decided to test this out.  The next time I genuinely disagreed with one of their ideas I said so.  This was met with silence and uncomfortable shuffling followed by further silence and awkwardness. “Anyone for another biscuit?” said the head librarian desperate to save everyone from the torture of potential conflict in the room.  Nobody met my eyes and the next item on the agenda was announced, as if I had never spoken.  After the meeting I asked one of the librarians what that had been all about.  She revealed that people tend not to disagree with each other publically for fear of “hurting someone’s feelings”.  I was never asked back.

Are your staff holding back or are they weighing in?  Perhaps they aren’t contributing to debates for fear of the political ramifications or the social cost of disagreeing.  What a chronic loss of mental resources and creativity.  If this is the case the team might become dysfunctional and the results or outputs could well suffer.  I believe this is far from being unusual in organisations.

This is the 2nd of the 5 classic team dysfunctions that will be explored on our upcoming Team Health Check day.  Biscuits will of course be supplied (along with practical tips on how to overcome these dysfunctions).


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