As leaders, we often concentrate our energy on making sure everyone gets along. An office culture that's filled with camaraderie, kindness and support is thought to be a reflection of our leadership skills and our ability to build a harmonious team. That's why we concern ourselves with putting out fires rather than starting them, but sparking a little friction could be exactly what your company needs to ignite innovation and grow.
Office dynamics is one of the hardest parts of the job, so it's no wonder the idea of encouraging conflict could send some leaders into panic mode. However, great things come out of a diversity. When people know that their colleagues have strong opinions and aren't afraid to share them, they work harder. They better prepare, explain themselves more clearly, and share ideas openly. These are all elements you want from your staff.
When everyone constantly agrees on every issue, you have stalled creativity. It's much more beneficial for the company if each person is encouraged to share their opinion and challenge ideas when they feel strongly about their position. Asking questions stirs up discussion and keeps each employee on their toes.
However, there's a fine line between helpful and harmful friction. So if you want to build a dynamic team that's up for any challenge, keep these actions in mind.
1. Hire unlikely candidates.
A key to keep the team dynamic is by adding staff from diverse professional backgrounds and even unrelated industries. Someone with a background in hospitality may seem like an unlikely candidate for your tech company, but his or her experience could offer valuable ideas and new perspectives that shake up the status quo.
Look for personality traits that are lacking from your current staff, not just skill sets. Ask candidates how they've handled conflict in the past, and pose questions with hypothetical scenarios to expose their approach to working with others. Remember that opinions can clash yet still remain complimentary.
2. Don't interfere.
When conflict starts to arise, your gut reaction may be to immediately interject and diffuse the situation. But unless the conversation turns to screaming and fists are about to fly in the air, resist the urge to intervene. Trust that your staff will be able to control themselves unless you're given a reason to think otherwise.
The best ideas arise out of conflict, so don't be afraid of it. The more your staff work out their issues, the less they will look to you and more to each other to solve problems. This is the essence of team work and the end goal for any organization. Arguing and debating are two very different things, so create an environment where the latter is embraced and supported.
3. Keep them on track.
With that said, there are times when you do need to step in. Group discussions can easily turn into debate practice. As the leader, it's your job to keep people focused on the goal or topic at hand. It's also your role to ensure everyone's voices are heard. Just be careful not to pick sides; your job is be neutral and moderate the conversation so it keeps moving.
If things do start to get too heated and escalate, step in immediately and diffuse the situation. The longer the conflict goes on, the harder it will be to get the team to calm down and stay focused.
Put a time limit on each topic, then quickly move on to the next even if nothing is resolved. Otherwise you'll be wasting everyone's time as the group starts talking in circles. Change the subject and come back to it once you've all had a chance to calm down.