A little healthy disagreement within your company is perfectly normal--and even a good thing. But if teams break into warring factions every time a big decision rolls around, it might be time to fine tune your conflict-management strategies.
First things first: realize why these conflicts start. Jeff Weiss and Jonathan Hughes, consultants with Vantage Partners, say that joint projects, discussions on budgets, or resource allocation meetings can be rife with disagreement because different departments have different priorities.
"One group is accountable for managing costs, for example, and another group is responsible for growing market share. There's a built-in tension between the two goals--that's as it should be," Weiss says during an interview with the Harvard Business Review. "These are natural checks and balances. But obviously such tensions can create dysfunctional conflict."
If butting heads are getting in the way of moving forward on a key decision, read on for tips on how to break it up.
Get back to what matters.
Hughes says he has five questions that help two sides come back together during an argument and make a good decision. He says it's all about focusing in on the issue, dispelling egos, and getting back on track.
First ask: What are the core strategic imperatives that should govern this decision?
Second: Why are we doing this in the first place? Were we trying to get into an emerging market, develop a new capability, or what?
Third: Are the different parties' risks and rewards structured differently, so that we can find a way that nobody has to give anything up?
Fourth: Is there a way to split the difference?
Fifth: If we looked at this from the point of view of the customer (or whatever third party we're dealing with), would the best answer become clear?
Decide who is the decider.
When things get bad, when egos have erupted, it's too late. Hughes says that before conflict even starts you have to a decider in place. This is not the best way to make decisions, but it may be necessary as an emergency brake when all hell breaks loose. "Decide who will make the final decision, if it comes to that. (You want to limit this to a very small number of individuals)," Hughes says. "Who will have the right to be heard during the decision-making process?"
Beware of the binary.
To lessen the possibility of an argument, there are specific ways issues should not be framed. Do not set up a decision like a test with one correct answer. "People tend to frame issues in an unnecessarily binary way--'Should we do X or Y?' This generally leads to arguments about what is true or false," Weiss says. "Instead, exploring the upsides and downsides of various alternatives is typically much more productive."