In 2002, Patrick Lencioni released his groundbreaking classic Five Dysfunctions of a Team. He laid out five simple warning signs that helped you assess if your organization was culturally ill and dysfunctional. Through that book, millions of leaders were able to look at their teams and begin to make the needed decisions to change things for the better.

One of the dysfunctions listed in the book is fear of conflict. Lencioni writes that high functioning teams embrace healthy conflict. It makes them better and allows everyone around the table to get their ideas and opinions out. Jim Collins, in his book Good to Great, connects this idea when he defines the traits of a level five leader. The highest levels of leadership allow the team to debate in a safe environment knowing that the answer will surface in the process. The leader has to see it, name it, and then point everyone toward it.

But what happens after the meeting, if one of the team member’s ideas isn’t chosen and they vehemently disagree with the direction? They decide to find anyone around that table that was somewhat in their corner and privately vent. That, my friends, is drama. Conflict doesn’t always produce drama, but drama always comes from conflict. It happens when people choose their needs over the needs of the whole. I realize this is a tricky comment in today’s marketplace where the gap continues to grow between the c-suite and everyone else. The reality though is that drama drains, distracts, and divides. If left untended, it will create the potion needed to poison the organization.

Drama drains, distracts, and divides. If left untended, it will create the potion needed to poison your organization.

Here are three things that conflict, and drama always do. My hope is that they help you differentiate between the two and help you promote healthy conflict and discourage destructive drama.

Conflict

  1. Focuses on the needs of the organization – When you share something that may be unpopular, it is because you care about the team’s direction. People who embrace healthy conflict are willing to risk rejection because they are dialed in to the vision.
  2. Allows everyone to share their opinion, no matter how unpopular without fear of judgement – Many people would never admit it, but they care more about what others think and how they look than doing the right thing. What do their actions tell you?
  3. Necessary to get to the best decisions – because healthy conflict promotes everyone sharing, nothing is held back. It is a rigorous approach to innovation and problem solving.

Drama

  1. Focuses on the needs of the individual – Drama happens when I care more about me than we. If the vision isn’t strong, compelling, and inspiring, your crew will always find themselves drawn to drama.
  2. People choose not to share when it matters most and share personal judgements with others when it matters the least – the leader must establish a culture that honors and awards team members for sharing their thoughts and ideas regardless of application.
  3. Delays the best decisions – when your team chooses not to engage for whatever reason, your ability to innovate and solve important problems goes down. Think about it, instead of having every brain in the game, you’re left leaning on a couple people’s ideas. That doesn’t work!

What do you do now? Take these ideas and share them with your team. Encourage free idea sharing and put an end to the water cooler club. If your team’s engagement has been low, apologize for allowing dysfunction to creep into your walls. If you are causing drama, STOP IT! Engage and add value. Don’t waste your teammates’ time because you’re still bitter about something that happened in the past. Let’s change the world and do something great together!

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