Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Dysfunction 2: Fear of Conflict

Fear of Conflict resulting from Artificial Harmony

Synopsis:  If the members of the team are concerned that their honest comments may throw off balance the ease they’ve created by holding back, then everyone will keep holding back. 


“Politics is when people choose their words and actions based on how they want others to react rather than based on what they really think” (Lencioni, 2002, p.88).

“It’s the lack of conflict that’s a problem. Harmony itself is good, if it comes as a result of working through issues constantly and cycling through conflict. But if it comes only as     a result of people holding back their opinions and honest concerns, then it’s a bad thing” (Lencioni, 2002, p.92).

“Frustration sometimes surfaces in the form of subtle comments, but more often than not, it is bottled up and carried around” (Lencioni, 2002, p.93).

“Our ability to engage in passionate, unfiltered debate about what we need to do to succeed will determine our future as much as any products we develop or partnerships we sign” (Lencioni, 2002, p.101).

Teams that fear conflict... (Lencioni, 2002, p.204)
  • Have boring meetings
  • Create environments where back-channel politics and personal attacks thrive
  • Ignore controversial topics that are critical to team success
  • Fail to tap into all the opinions and perspectives of team members
  • Waste time and energy with posturing and interpersonal risk management

Teams that engage in conflict... (Lencioni, 2002, p.204)
  • Have lively, interesting meetings
  • Extract and exploit the ideas of all team members
  • Solve real problems quickly
  • Minimize politics
  • Put critical topics on the table for discussion

Suggested methods of increasing overcoming fear of conflict in a team (Lencioni, 2002, 203-205)
  • Mining - the practice of allowing someone on the team to "mine" or force buried disagreements to light in order to work through them.
  • Real-Time Permission - a quick reminder from the team leader, when necessary, that the conflict, or healthy debate, is necessary and will bring about the results they need.
  • TKI (Thomas Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument - a professional tool used to identify how each member approaches conflict and help them learn to have healthy debate with one another based on personality types and inclinations around conflict.
What are some of the most common topics of conflict that go unspoken within your group?  How do these unspoken conflicts affect your group?
(Please click on the 'comments' below and leave your response)


    1. In my Teacher-Librarian position last year, there was a certain amount of conflict regarding lap tops usage. This conflict all seemed to happen between classroom teachers but behind each others' backs. When there was a conflict with one teacher checking out the lap tops "too much", the other teachers would come to me. Sometimes teachers wouldn't return the carts on time and then the next class to have them would have to go hunt for them. We could have used some healthy dialogue around lap top usage but our principal never saw that as a high priority.

    2. A couple of issues that I dealt with in my position are "who's responsible for doing 'such and such' job?" and "what's appropriate behavior in a library setting?"

      These issues affect the group negatively because when they are ignored, they become a heavy weight around everyone's neck, weighing us down. Then people start "reading" others' minds (like they know what the other person is thinking) and harboring ill feelings.

    3. I've noticed that teachers can be very competitive. This low-level competitive "thing" acts like a barrier to true collaboration between teachers. Instead of saying to a team mate, "Wow, that was a cool project and kudos to you for trying something new. Can we work together on something similar or can you teach me to do what you did?" They sort of half heartily acknowledge the effort and behind that teachers back they say "over achiever, super teacher, etc." That teacher is some what shunned because she is willing to raise the bar. This definitely contributes to an adversarial dynamic that will stop any group from working effectively.

    4. When we began working with our new principal, most of the para educators felt like we were left out of the communications of the staff. Instead of going to the principal or other involved person, they complained bitterly at recess duty. This only inflamed the discontent, and put the students at risk because the duty para's weren't paying attention. It was interesting to watch the folks who wouldn't communicate their discontent slowly bail from the school rather than change their situation.


    Add your comments about the above dysfunction and discussion question here.