Dysfunction: Fear of Conflict

Truth springs from argument amongst friends…

-David Hume

The ‘fear’ of conflict from The Five Dysfunctions of a Team manifests in teams that have protocols or cultures that steer the group away from conflict as a ‘bad’ thing. Ironically, open conflict can be a positive optimization mechanism.

I know what you are thinking, ‘We’re not afraid of conflict, we’re conflicting all the time.’ Open mean spirited ad hominem attacks are obviously dysfunctional, but maybe Patrick Lencioni’s publisher didn’t think the book should be called, ‘The Five Dysfunctions of a Team That Aren’t Totally Obvious’.

Here’s where things get interesting. . . and there might be a fine line, but if a team can truly conflict with passion, and even frustration, where the sole purpose is producing the best possible solution, they will produce a better solution in less time.

Conflict can never really be avoided. Attempting to avoid conflict is ensuring that there is no true resolution and the latent conflicts will just compound and fester. Eventually, the suppression creates fissures in the team and back-channel us-against-them style back-biting. Even more energy and creativity is lost when the key decisions that were made, without resolving conflicts, result in half hearted actions.

Of course, none of the benefit of open conflict are possible without ‘Trust’.

Where all think alike, no one thinks very much.

– Walter Lippmann

If you want to build good software, you have to start with the premise that your team is made up of creative smart people, or else you have already lost. The type of people that build really good software, also tend to have passion and opinions. Those opinions are often not the same as other people who also might happen to build really good software.

In software development, every member of a team is making decisions that will have short term and long term impact on success. These decisions are often being made minute by minute. Can a team afford not to have a unified vision of what they are trying to accomplish and what they value that has not been purified in the crucible of collective examination and honest conflict?

What are you afraid of?

(ok, one more gratuitous quote)

The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; it is dearness only that gives everything its value. I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress and grow brave by reflection. ‘Tis the business of little minds to shrink; but he whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves his conduct, will pursue his principles unto death.

-Thomas Paine

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4 responses to “Dysfunction: Fear of Conflict

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