The Importance of Conflict In High Performing Teams

I recently attended an AIM Breakfast where the presentation from the guest speaker was about addressing dysfunction in teams. Specifically, he discussed Lencioni’s Five Dysfunctions Model which identifies five (surprise) distinct issues that form an interrelated model of dysfunction. These are:

  • Absence of TRUST
  • Fear of CONFLICT
  • Lack of COMMITMENT
  • Avoidance of ACCOUNTABILITY
  • Inattention to RESULTS

I think that four of the five dysfunctions are clearly recognised and almost everyone would immediately agree to the importance of trust, commitment, accountability and results to a highly engaged, high performing team.

On the other hand, conflict is something that you tend avoid at all costs and the word itself comes with negative connotations. Particularly in professions that are underpinned by a service and support ethos, such as counsellors, health workers, community centres, etc. It can also be the case in organisations that are predominately staffed by women as society expects that women be supportive and consultative, the antithesis to conflict.

Yet conflict is not inherently bad, and in fact is critical to allowing an honest and open sharing of ideas thereby overcoming group think and providing an environment where individuals feel empowered to speak up and share their views.

Avoidance of conflict leads to secrecy, back-stabbing and gossip. Squashing dissenting voices also squashes commitment and engagement as people become less involved and unwilling to participate.

At the AIM Breakfast discussion, we were asked to think about a great team we had been a part of and discuss the characteristics of that team. For me this was a team in the high paced, policy environment of the Dept. of the Premier & Cabinet. I remember my very first team meeting very clearly. I had come from a role in another Government department that was all about consultation, not upsetting anyone and being overly politically correct. Meetings generally consisted of everyone agreeing with everyone else. No decisions were made and frankly they were a boring waste of time.

So, I walked into the DPC meeting, about 15 people around a boardroom table, all engaged, all adamantly arguing their view and making suggestions on how others should handle a policy paper dilemma. People differing in their interpretation of legislation and who should be the lead on a high-profile matter. I thought ‘oh no, no one likes each other here’.

But I was so wrong. All the conflict was about ideas, facts, content, the work. The conflict was stimulating and focused on getting the best result. In fact, the conflict was representative of an amazingly supportive team. People had your back. If there was a tough paper, an imploding department CEO to handle or an impending deadline; everyone would help you.

Not only was the environment very supportive but decisions, yes actual decisions were made at meetings and you walked away knowing what needed to be done. Meetings were interesting and useful…who knew that could be the case??

During my time there I saw very little, if any, backstabbing and negative gossip. One, we were too busy to have the time and two, all disagreements were out in the open.

It is up to the leader to set the tone and expectations around positive conflict which cannot happen without first building trust within the team. So, if you are a team leader you need to show vulnerability, be open to questions around your decisions, encourage sharing of opinions, not shut down dissention, foster an atmosphere of curiosity, not punish failure and most importantly keep the conflict focused on the content not the individual.

How does your team stack up against the Five Dysfunctions?

  • Do people TRUST one another?
  • Are they comfortable with CONFLICT?
  • Do they COMMIT to decisions and actions?
  • Are they held ACCOUNTABLE to their work?
  • Is there a focus on RESULTS?

Ignoring these dysfunctions will slowly erode team morale and team performance. Start the conversation early.



I work with leadership teams to navigate organisational change and develop high performing teams.

Email me to discover how I can work with you to build your high performing team.

Kim Adams Website

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By | 2017-05-04T10:22:46+00:00 May 4th, 2017|Confidence, confident communication, Leadership, police, team building|Comments Off on The Importance of Conflict In High Performing Teams

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