Friday, 27 May 2011

Why I Love Conflict!!

Ok, so thats a bit strong. I don't like conflict for conflicts sake. But i do love the benefits that healthy conflict can bring to successful teams.


Disagreeing isn't easy. But it is important. And remember, just because you're the only one disagreeing, it doesn't mean you are wrong. The fact is that there are always at least 2 sides to a story and from a problem solving perspective, there are always options- you just may not like them! People who are not afraid to challenge can be misconstrued as being difficult or contrary or awkward. But, often they are just playing Devils Advocate and are just presenting all the options or the potential flip side to the coin and I think this is a valuable trait.

It's important that people demonstrate the courage to have an opinion even if its one thats not popular or shared. It's all part of the feedback process which promotes discussion, ideas and solutions and often leads to successful teams. This can be a culture shock for some but in the long run, the team benefits and you generally get a better result.

If everyone buys in the cause and people trust that they are heading in the same direction, a bit of conflict can be very healthy. People like to use the phrase, singing from the same song sheet and in general, I agree with the sentiment - lets all work together for a common goal. But this should NOT be lead to blind acquiescence. There is a danger that having an opinion that is different to the majority or the key influencers marks you out as someone who is not a team player, a tag which nobody wants. As a result, this can lead to people just going along with the consensus so as not to "rock the boat", avoiding conflict which is not in the long term interests of the team.

People can be tagged as obstructive or blockers rather than "can do". Beware. While I acknowledge that these people do exist, you need to check their motives. If they are doing so for personal gain then yes they are negative and are trying to "slow the bus down" for the wrong reasons. It may just be that they are trying to offer balance. Trying to apply the handbrake to stop the bus crashing off the cliff. But remember, if you mark yourself out as someone who is willing to challenge, you must be prepared to take criticism yourself as you'll be wrong often! And above all, never make it personal.


Sticking with the song sheet analogy - a good song doesn't mean everyone is singing the same notes or perhaps even using their voices at all! You will have people playing different instruments and then within a set of singers you may have some who sing high and some low. Its harmonising. There has to be a balanced set of voices. Too much of the same and it doesn't work.

You need some brakemen and some accelerators so that you have a controlled efficient vehicle which can move forward at pace without losing control. Try a football analogy. Too many brakers and you have Arsenal - a good team without being great, just falling short perhaps as a result of not inveseting. Too many accelerators and you have Leeds, living the dream and crashing and burning.

And do not let people think that doing the boring/admin/BAU work is not worthy. All the eye-catching football, the cool development stuff, the good ideas - they all need to be built on solid foundations. Again, think football and the water carrier. You need a Deschamps to do the dirty work to allow Zidane to flourish. And at a personal level, even the worlds best footballers are able to do the basics. You don't think that Ronaldinho can only do fancy flicks and tricks? No, he's built his skills on a foundation of solid basics. The same applies to IT.


So back to the world of development. I like to think I am adaptable. I recognise the need for both roles - driver and brakeman and depending on the position I am in, I will adopt either role. In a highly autocractic environment with lots of red tape, it may be necessary to be a bit more cavalier to try and break some of the resistance to change. In a company where there is minimal control and change is virtually omnipresent, it is necessary to try and apply the brake and introduce process for the sake of stability. After all, while I love change- i also love stability and scalability.

From a personal perspective, an area where I am trying to improve is getting my point across effectively- getting buy in - as it can be difficult for people to understand somone with extreme opinions, be it braker or driver. It is often only after a period of time (and some clashes!) that people begin to understand your motives and give you the respect which lets your message in.

I dare say there are a mixture of people and styles in your work. Spot the gap, spot the problems and fill that niche. You can bring balance and a smoother ride for all.

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