The Best Teams Disagree

It may seem counterintuitive, but high-performing teams often don’t see eye to eye. After all, human relationships and dynamics can be messy; they’re not always a pristine, well-oiled machine. Though it may seem these teams operate as if by magic, deploying high-impact strategy effortlessly, what you don’t see behind closed doors is that these teams sputter, stop and start again.

Think about the most successful marriage relationships. Or the most genuine friendships. It’s the rare few that don’t lock horns and go toe to toe over matters and, in leadership or otherwise, contention within the team isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

In fact, it can be very productive and derive results in a way the group that always seems to get along cannot.

That’s because:

1. Status quo is unacceptable. Winning teams are always pushing the boundaries. Any time there is change from convention, emotional volatility can result. This isn’t the easy path – it’s more like the treacherous narrow trail of K2 than a well-maintained Interstate system – but it’s the path successful teams recognize will lead to stellar performance.

2. The best teams are well-rounded, composed of individuals of diverse and perspective and expertise. This variety lends itself well to performance, but the relational dynamic can often take a hit because of the resultant varied approaches or methods of processing. Though on the same team, the CFO and VP of HR look at an issue through different lenses, ones influenced by their primary responsibilities and varying talent composition. Understanding this dynamic and working through it is necessary for success.

3. Successful individuals and teams most typically operate from passion, conviction and high levels of engagement. This zeal is the fuel of success, but also the recipe for disaster if not channeled appropriately.

As you can see, disagreeing isn’t a necessarily a bad thing, but you must set some ground rules so each meeting doesn’t become a dysfunctional blood bath. You need to task someone with mediating. Who is in charge of vetting everyone’s contributions so all voices are heard, and then aligning the group to a shared vision or required outcome?

It is also imperative to define the “rules of engagement” so that disagreements –- but never disrespect — will be tolerated.

Groups in both our professional and personal lives are not infallible because people aren’t infallible. The differences that make us great — our varied personalities, backgrounds, values and talents — are the very things that can spark a fire. It’s our challenge as leaders to cultivate and sustain cultures of excellence; weaving a beautiful tapestry from the tangled strands of human behavior.

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