Conflict Resolution

Championship Teams are the Result of 5 Critical Factors

Before starting a career in oilfield operations and ultimately consulting, I was fortunate to coach ten high school football and baseball teams to state championships. As I look back at what made us successful as sports teams and then start to look at the very successful business teams I have been fortunate to serve on, I notice a trend.  They both have the same five critical factors necessary to be successful.

  1. Great teams set high goals. We never set a goal to win X number of games, we always set a goal to win the championship. In business, we never set a goal to be average, rather we set goals that would create a competitive advantage for our team and company.
  2. Great Teams hold themselves accountable. As we have stated before, accountability does not mean punishment. We must focus on three things for which we must hold all team members accountable:
      • expected behaviors related to how team members respond to one another
      • continuous process improvement to reach higher and higher objectives
      • tasks done on time and done right.
  3. Great teams talk through tough issues. Team members do not always agree on everything and at times don’t even get along. To help with these “bumps in the road”, great teams must show respect to all team members, focus on the goal and collaborate for success. Dr. Stephen Covey once said “It is not my way or your way it is a better way” that is the essence of collaboration as you check your ego at the door and focus on the goals and objectives set out from the start. (Check out the latest Newsletter on Collaboration and Teamwork).
  4. Great teams connect their work with the other teams in the company. They understand that the Company as a whole is the total team and that its success is based on the success of all the teams that support and deliver that success. Knowing this, they will then support and contribute to other teams as necessary and share knowledge and results throughout the organization.

Great teams believe in their mission/goals. A Gallup Poll released June 11, 2013 indicated that only 30% of workers are engaged at the workplace and that the vast majority do just enough to get by. Great teams get their teammates to understand how their efforts impact the team and company and ultimately get them to buy-in. They know that to motivate the employee to a top level of performance they must align sub-team goals with the goals of the overall team.

Let’s look at these 5 critical behaviors through the lens of one of the more underrated American sports team. The San Antonio Spurs have quietly built a dynasty of sorts. No, they may not be the Celtics of the of the ‘60s that won 8 in a row and it’s not the Bulls of the Michael Jordan era, but they are great in their own right. No, they didn’t win the World Championship this year, but they did take a far superior team (on paper) to 7 games and they have 4 championships since 1999.

This is what is amazing about the run the Spurs have been on over that time, they are ALWAYS overmatched on paper. If you simply compared the talent of the players, the Spurs are almost always on the short end of that stick. Sure they have Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and had David Robinson. These are all names that the casual fan has heard at some point, but they may not have heard of them if they hadn’t played for the Spurs. Ginobili and Parker look more like law partners than world class athletes and the two big men quite honestly are closer to Will Purdue than they are Wilt Chamberlain. So how do they win? How have they continued to be so successful?

Look back at our list of 5 critical factors and imagine what it must be like to be on that team and playing for a leader like Greg Popovich. Do you think each team starts with the goal of winning a World Championship? Do you think the coaches hold the players accountable to their actions and performance, as well as the players to other players? Do you think they deal with tough issues that arise over a grueling 82 game schedule? Do you think the front office, medical staff, coaches, players, etc. all have the same mission and vision for the organization? Do you think that the entire organization has bought into this vision? If you answered “yes” to all of these questions then you see what an incredibly functional team must look like. The other side of that coin must look like the Dallas Cowboys, but it pains me far too much to discuss that disfunction in this blog.

The Positive Side of Conflict

We usually treat conflict like a pest - a plague on organizational efficiency and effectiveness.  It disrupts operations, sours cultures and inhibits collaboration.  But is it always and entirely bad?  We suggest that there are two overlooked sides to conflict that, if managed correctly, can be harnessed for good and give your organization a boost:

1. Conflict gives rise to conversations about "undiscussables".  These are things that silently constrain healthy interaction among employees and that need to be resolved, but are considered minor enough that they do not outweigh the risk associated with trying to resolve them.  For example, employees might perceive that leadership does not respect their contributions.  This would normally be a topic of conversation that employees choose to avoid when in the company of the organization's leaders because, while bothersome, it is not so severe a problem that it warrants "rocking the boat."  When conflict arises, though, there are usually strong emotions involved and the parties will bring up issues such as this, which, in more sober moments, would be considered "undiscussable."  It then becomes the responsibility of the leader to take the opportunity to learn from the conflict driven discussion and make changes that will lead to increased productivity within their team.

2. Differences in opinion (conflict) can also fuel productive creativity.  Substantial research by Dr. Charlan Nemeth has demonstrated that, when people disagree, they put significantly more effort into supporting their positions.  In other words, we think through, develop and vet our own ideas much more thoroughly when we have to defend them against countervailing pressures.  Conflict among individuals can present such countervailing pressure and therefore increase analysis of ideas and lead to more positive discussion and thus increased creativity.  It goes without saying that such increased creativity can, when managed effectively also lead to organizational improvement and innovation.

Unfortunately, conflict is usually a destructive force in organizations.  People disagree, emotions elevate and the social bonds that keep organizations operating effectively begin to dissolve.  When unmanaged, this is what most conflict creates, but we have proposed that conflict has a positive side.  It presents us with an opportunity.  The key, of course, is for the conflict to be handled well.  When people (1) understand the anatomy of conflict - how and why it fuels emotional fires and spirals out of control - and (2) possess the skills to redirect conflict into healthy conversations, conflict becomes a uniquely positive force on organizations.

A Best Boss Is a Good Decision Maker & Deals Effectively with Conflict

Over the course of 2012, the world-wide media has interviewed, polled, analyzed, and dissected countless opinions and agendas with respect to the characteristics and qualifications, both desired from and previously demonstrated by, the various candidates for global leadership from Cairo to Washington and Athens to Beijing.During this same time, we, here at The RAD Group, have been broadcasting our own analysis of the characteristics we hope to see in today's leaders. Our Best Boss series has had one simple agenda and we hope you have found it valuable.

Our analysis will impact the results you are seeing wether you are a newly elected Prime Minister, a CEO, a night shift supervisor, or mom or dad. We believe that you and the other leaders in your organization can improve performance by listening to what your employees have been telling us over the last 20+ years. We asked thousands of participants in our performance management classes to describe the best boss they ever had. Though our polls are not closed, we feel confident to announce the results.

A "Best Boss":

#1 -- is a good communicator #2 -- holds himself and others accountable for results #3 -- enables success #4 -- motivates others #5 -- cares about the success of others #6 -- is honest and trustworthy #7 -- shows trust by delegating effectively #8 -- is fair and consistent #9 -- competent and knowledgeable #10 -- rewards / recognizes success #11 -- leads by example #12 -- is loyal to employees #13 -- is friendly #14 -- is a good problem solver #15 -- is a team builder #16 -- is flexible and willing to change when necessary #17 -- is a good planner / organizer and #18 -- shows respect to others.

This month we close out the series with a look at how a Best Boss:

#19 -- is a good decision maker and #20 -- deals effectively with conflict.

A Good Decision Maker

Scores of books and articles have been written on the best way to make decisions and many of the processes described include valuable assistance for decision makers. In actuality, we are all decision makers and make decisions many times each day. Some decisions are just more important than others, in that they can lead to more significant (both positive and negative) consequences.

Understand the Facts The key to good decision making is a complete (or as complete as time and information allow) understanding of the facts and potential consequences of each possible decision. Without question it involves an examination of any and all ethical consequences of the decision. For simple decisions, little or no input from others may be needed. These are the routine daily decisions that don’t require a lot of “buy-in” for execution to occur. But complex, high impact decisions are different.

As we have said several times before in previous newsletters, getting input from team members and other experts is invaluable when gathering facts, understanding consequences and making the final decision.

Recruit Help Best Bosses understand that they can’t have all of the information, knowledge and experience needed to make all important decisions, so they recruit help. They treat important decision making as a team-based problem solving exercise. Once they have gathered the relevant information, they then “pull the trigger”, make the decision and then stand behind both the decision and the team.

Prepare for the Next Decision If success follows a decision, Best Bosses share the “glory” with the team and if “failure” follows, they accept responsibility and go to work determining why the failure occurred so that it won’t happen again. In other words, they engage in team-based problem solving to correct the failure. Regardless of the outcome, how the boss responds to the results of a decision making process will dramatically impact the ability to recruit help next time, the willingness of recruits to communicate facts and consequences, and the confidence with which future decisions will be executed.

Deals Effectively with Conflict

Conflict is a naturally occurring issue anytime you have people working or living together. We define conflict as unresolved differences of opinion or perceptions regarding some issue. Conflict by definition is required for improvement and innovation to occur and is completely healthy if managed correctly.

Foster Positive Conflict Best Bosses understand the value of conflict and foster opportunities for conflict-based conversation that leads to creative improvement. Best Bosses also know that conflict can lead to reduced productivity, quality, safety, etc. and work to keep unhealthy conflict to a minimum.

Collaboration and Communication Best Bosses keep unhealthy conflict to a minimum by understanding that the best way to resolve conflict is through collaboration. Collaboration requires an understanding of the problem solving process and how to communicate by listening effectively before any decision concerning action is taken. All parties must have the opportunity to “state their positions”, but must also be “respectful” enough to listen to the other person to gain a complete understanding of their position. Best Bosses create an environment of respectful openness where disagreement is encouraged and the skills to collaboratively resolve conflict are learned by every team member.

Best Boss Bottom Line - Series Finale

We have created a name for best bosses; we call them “Facilitative Relational Leaders”. Facilitation is defined as the accomplishment of results by making it easier for other people to express their views and achieve their objectives. Relational is demonstrating respect and care for others. The skills and characteristics identified in our research are the same skills needed to facilitate and build relationships. You may have noticed that the Best Boss skills/characteristics tend to tie together and demonstration of one involves application of others. Best Bosses understand this and continuously attempt to improve in the use of each of the skills that we have been discussing. Maybe it is time for you to evaluate or re-evaluate where you stand.

The Secret to Conflict Resolution -- Stop Compromising

We hear the word “compromise” anytime we turn on the TV or read a newspaper article about how the U.S. Congress should fix our fiscal woes.  Talking heads and Joe Public alike beg for more compromise to fix the situation.  Is it possible that compromise is what is putting us in such a predicament?  Compromise is based on giving up something you want, thus it is based on “losing”.  As that term suggests, I give a little, you give a little, and we meet somewhere in the middle at an agreement.  While compromise sounds like the best way to get unstuck, it actually leaves both parties feeling unsatisfied, almost as if they gave up too much.

To truly resolve conflict we suggest another “C” word -- “Collaboration”.  To collaborate, two or more parties must brainstorm ideas to fix a problem.  The goal, in the end, is to walk away with a solution that is more likely to truly “fix” the situation over which the parties were at odds to begin with.  The process is really pretty easy.  First, the two parties must come to an agreement on a goal that they both want to achieve.  Once that goal is agreed on, they brainstorm ways to get them to their shared goal.  No giving up one’s beliefs or buying into the other guy’s beliefs, simply agreed upon strategies that can get both parties what they have agreed that they both want.  The task then is to choose one solution that both parties have already agreed will achieve the common goal.

Let’s look at an actual conflict that shows how this works.  There was a state in the Southern U.S. that was having violent clashes between Pro-Choice and Pro-Life groups.  The state’s governor knew he must do something before more violence led to somebody’s death.  He told his assistant that he wanted the leadership of both groups to meet with him so they could come to some sort of agreement to stop the violence.  His assistant, thinking the governor had lost his mind, questioned if getting these two groups together in the same room was wise, but the governor insisted.

When the meeting did occur, both sides were at each other’s throats from the moment they arrived in the meeting room.  The governor eventually created calm so that he could address the restless crowd.  What he told them was surprising even to is staff.  He said, “As you all know, we have a significant teen pregnancy problem in our state.  We rank 49th out of the 50 states in teen pregnancies and 50th in the number of teenaged abortions.  What I need from you is to help me solve this problem.  I need your ideas for cutting back the rate of teen pregnancy so that we can cut the number of abortions in the state.”  Both sides instantly changed their demeanor.  After all, the vast majority of abortions are performed on teenaged mothers.  If they could solve that problem, their debate would become moot.

For the next few weeks both sides met and came up with a strategy to lower the pregnancy rate of girls in their state.  They worked together, civilly to reach a common goal, and in the end, they lowered the teen aged pregnancy rate over 50% in their state.

How about you, how does this work in your world?  Can you find a common goal to work towards rather than trying to determine what you are willing to give up, and therefore feeling unsatisfied?  Stop compromising when you are at odds with your co-worker, spouse, or neighbor and find a way to create an action plan that gets you both to a mutual goal.  If only they understood this in Washington.