Play nice. We’re
taught the importance of this concept from the time we first shared building
blocks as toddlers to now, as adults in the workplace. Conflict is frowned upon, especially when we
are supposed to work as a team.
That sentiment, however, is misguided, particularly when we
talk about creating high performance work teams. Conflict is inevitable and actually can lead
to phenomenal progress. It’s how you manage conflict that can make it the fuel
that propels your team or the fire that destroys it.
In 1965, psychologist Bruce Tuckman proposed four stages for
group or team development, and those stages hold true today.
- Forming is when the group first comes
together. At that point, most people
want to make a good impression and either have few disagreements or are
reluctant to show them.
- Storming occurs when the inevitable conflict
begins to occur. As the group settles
in, multiple people may vie for power, or one person may attempt to force his
or her ideas on the group. Some members
may opt out of participating if they are not satisfied with how the group is
- Norming happens when the group reaches a general
agreement on what behavior and goals are acceptable. According to Tuckman, decisions are made at
this stage through negotiating and building consensus.
- Performing occurs when all of the parts have
finally come together, and the group works collaboratively to reach their
Most people would rather skip over the Storming stage
because it is uncomfortable, but it is absolutely essential for teams to plow
through this stage if they are ever going to get to the next one.
Unfortunately, managers often feel that they have to be the
ones to resolve conflict, but that ends up killing the team concept. Conflict
is not bad. In fact, it can lead to
creativity and innovation. If a team
always agreed on everything, they’d be satisfied with the first answer to the problem instead of working, arguing and debating
to figure out the best answer.
The way to keep conflict constructive (instead of
destructive) is to make sure the team manages itself and manages the
process. Team members must understand
that although they do not have to like each other, they need to respect each
other, work together and be professional. In addition, team members need the skills to
communicate and to manage conflict within the group—before they are even assembled
into a team.
If we don’t train them to do that for themselves and a
manager steps in to resolve the conflict, the group doesn’t have a chance to
work its way from Storming to Norming. This hijacks the entire process, and the
end goal may never be reached.
The concept of “team” is one in which everybody is
contributing something of value, and to reach the last step of Performing,
teams need to go through each of the previous steps—painful as they may
be. However, the only way a team
successfully gets through those steps and achieves unbridled creativity and collaboration
is if the team members have been trained to handle the issues that inevitably
rise when you put diverse people together in a group.