I recently worked with a leadership team who was striving to improve their collaboration. They had a consistent pattern of decision-making that did not encourage or even allow for collaboration on crucial business imperatives. Many thought that this pattern was a result of the work/pressure/stress they were under. This was only partially true.
There are some key ingredients required to successfully use collaboration as a mode to handle conflict. It is necessary to have the time to discuss options and patience to actively listen. You also need to be able to use the stress of the situation to stimulate discussion not stifle it. However, managing the situational context is just the beginning.
To truly break a pattern of low collaboration, you need to understand the “go-to” conflict modes of your team. How does your team normally handle conflict? Are they all assertive, cooperative or a mix? What role does the leader play? How successful is this pattern? Understanding this information will help you and your team learn to effectively manage conflict.
By using the Thomas Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument we were able to discern the unhealthy pattern of conflict that this leadership team had fallen into. Their default pattern of avoiding and accommodating limited the team’s ability to collaborate. With this pattern identified we were able to build operating norms and ground rules to push the team members past their go-to conflict mode, and into a more successful, deliberate mode for collaboration.
As a result of this intervention, the team that struggled with collaboration now had a language to use when managing conflict, operating norms to guide their behaviour and a keen awareness of their default pattern and the other conflict modes they had available. As they say, knowing is half the battle. So, I ask you again – what is your “go-to” conflict mode?