High performing teams are founded on trust. Without trust, there are big problems with teams. Members don’t work well together. Trust is necessary to overcome the all-to-common fear of conflict that destroys team effectiveness. I wrote about the problems with teams here and here, where consensus and groupthink impact team results.

Fear of conflict mistakenly leads teams to premature decisions and consensus. When people don’t feel safe to be vulnerable, they hold back ideas and steer clear of confrontations.

Conflict should occur in teams. What value is diversity of team members to discovering innovative ideas if everyone wants to think alike and rush to agreement?

Without team members’ full trust in their leaders and each other, they don’t engage in productive debate, they lack commitment, don’t hold each other accountable, and lose focus on results.

Dysfunctional teams cannot be blamed for all business failures, but they play a major role in unsuccessful projects and missed goals. In his acclaimed bestseller, organizational consultant Patrick Lencioni identifies The Five Dysfunctions of a Team:

  1. Absence of trust
  2. Fear of conflict
  3. Lack of commitment
  4. No accountability
  5. Lack of attention to results

It’s important here to describe the kind of conflict that is key for high performing teams.

“I’m talking about productive, ideological debate around issues of importance to the team. Any team that wants to maximize its effectiveness needs to learn to do this, and doing so can only happen if vulnerability-based trust exists.” ~ Patrick Lencioni, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

Teams that lack trust may argue but their dialogue tends to be laced with destructive politics, pride, and competitiveness as team members try to win. Members don’t listen to other people’s ideas in order to reconsider their point of view.

Perhaps just as unproductive is the other side of the coin. Lack of trust also leads people to not speak up and not argue for fear of discomfort or coming under personal attack. Fortunately, it’s rare for team members to purposefully engage in personal attacks. Even so, the fear of conflict inhibits members from fully participating and adding their ideas.

Lencioni suggests viewing conflict this way:

“Imagine a continuum. On one end, there is artificial harmony with no conflict at all, and on the other there are mean-spirited, personal attacks. In the exact middle of that continuum there is a line where conflict goes from constructive to destructive or vice versa, depending on which direction you’re going. Now, the vast majority of teams I’ve encountered live close to the harmony end of the scale, feeling that any movement toward the middle is one step closer to murder.”

Murder? That got my attention, but think about it. Teams are often working in a vast desert of compliance and harmony, thinking that because they all “get-along,” they must be doing things right. But the whole point isn’t to produce the same-old results.

No conflict—–>Constructive Conflict & Debate//Destructive Conflict & Arguments<——-Chaos

Better is to have teams working just to the left of the middle point of the continuum. Teams actually need to have every bit of constructive conflict they can. Even if they step over the line into destructive debate on occasion, that should be okay. It gives people the opportunity to work through the incident and builds confidence the team can survive. It builds trust.

Not arguing, not debating does nothing to build trust and even less to produce good results. What are the problems with teams you see where you work? I’d love to hear your opinion on this.  As always, I can be reached here or on LinkedIn.

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