Three coaches and leaders offer their advice to an everywomanNetwork member looking to reduce conflict within their team and maximise the potential of its diversity…
An everywomanNetwork member writes...
I’ve worked hard to build a diverse team, with individuals from different backgrounds, perspectives, personality types and strengths, as I know this gives us a competitive edge. However, lately we seem to be struggling as a team to come together, reach consensus on things and work in an effective way. I feel that we’ve lost sight of our goals and spend a lot of time in debate around — often minor — points. It’s quite draining to manage. In addition, the dynamic doesn’t really consolidate into the kind of innovation in our projects I would expect. How can I as a team leader help to bring everyone together more successfully?
Diversity is just the first, piece says Alison Coward, founder of team building consultancy Bracket — you then need inclusion and belonging.
‘You’ve created a team full of all sorts of different people, but what you’re struggling with is the creation of an environment in which they can speak up and make the most of that diversity. You say that the team is getting lost in the detail and that usually indicates that you’ve lost sight of the bigger picture. Without that, there is nothing for the team to hold on to, so the individuals within it cling to the things they feel they have control over. They may benefit from a discussion session away from the day-to-day to help them look toward the future. This means asking questions such as: What do we want to achieve as a team What do we exist for? What does success look like for us? By doing this, you’re helping them to think bigger and connect around a common purpose.
‘It may also be worth doing an exercise in which you highlight the individuality of everyone in the team — do the team members actually know each other and what they bring to the bigger picture, from skills and expertise to perspective? This will also start to build greater understanding and respect among members.
‘Finally, one of the reasons people try to bring diverse people together is to get different viewpoints — as a leader you don’t want ‘groupthink’. So, you need to create an environment where healthy conflict can exist. People are afraid of conflict – and yes, some conflict is unproductive, the interpersonal kind for example. But what you want to encourage is conflict around ideas because that is what leads to innovation. If you have a difference of opinion on, say, blue or green, then everyone must understand it’s not about one being better than the other; you need to talk about the qualities of each and which serves your bigger purpose as a team and argue it out. And that can be an exciting and productive conversation. The way to encourage that kind of conflict is to call for ideas and then make it clear that part of the process is to critique these ideas, not the person — asking do they meet our team goals, why do we agree with it, why don’t we agree with it and so on. Then it becomes clear that it’s okay for people to disagree with each other in a respectful way. Ultimately, it’s difficult to innovate if you don’t know what you’re innovating for or against, and that is where the bigger picture piece comes in. It makes the conflict safer because everyone knows you’re arguing for the higher purpose, rather than because you feel threatened or you’re trying to put your stake in the ground.‘
Alison Coward is the founder of Bracket , a consultancy that helps teams to build high-performing, collaborative cultures. She is the author of ‘A Pocket Guide to Effective Workshops’.
Are you focused on the shadow or the sunshine? asks executive coach Helen Askey.
‘As a leader, your mindset is so important. Are you giving people not just praise, but positive feedback on their strengths, and helping them and others to identify them, or are you just looking at what's ‘not there’ in your team? You have a diverse team, which is fantastic — so let’s literally hear that diversity, and not in an obvious way, but by looking and hearing about everyone’s strengths. You also need to get really clear on the team purpose and ambition and then ask everyone on your team the same question, either in a team meeting or ideally one-to-one. The next step is then to ask — and listen — to each person talk about what's important to them, about the work they do and what they care about; there'll be a reason why each person is working in your team and at your company and it’s important to know what it is. Your responsibility is to do something which most leaders find really hard, which is to listen, and not ‘solutionise’.
‘The second piece is to be really clear on your ways of working. I often say people don't come with subtitles, so you've got to show your ‘workings out’. So, for example, if a new project comes in and you want two people to work on it together, say why that is — that could be because you think they variously bring organisation. or passion, or a particular complementary set of skills whatever it might be — but it’s important to share your thinking, especially if there's that little dynamic in your team, which I'm picking upon. Or you could even ask your team to collaborate instead, and say, ‘This is a project that we've got coming in — who wants to work on it?’
‘As a manager, you have to dial up the reasons why you’re doing what you’re doing or else people will just make it up — and inevitably, people make up negatives. And importantly, seek feedback on how you are helping and how you might be hindering the team from working in the most effective way during this process and afterwards. By getting feedback before and after you are able to gauge how things have changed and keep moving in the right direction. Finally — leaders like tangibility and this is one of those intangible quests — so, have patience with what you‘re doing and don’t expect quick fixes to happen. ‘
Founder of development and learning consultancy, Orange Pip, Helen Askey works with teams and leaders, supporting them to realise more of their strengths and potential. www.orangepip.co.uk
It’s important that people feel seen and understood, says Louise Hewitt, Copy Director at McCann Health and leader of a diverse team.
‘Being consciously inclusive is something that runs through McCann and is really important to me. Workplaces should be emotionally and psychologically safe, something that’s going to be felt by everybody on your team, regardless of their backgrounds. Can someone put up their hand and say something's gone wrong without the risk of being humiliated? What's your response if somebody says that they're leaving? All these things drive that feeling of workplace psychological safety.
‘You mention that your team is not working together as well as you’d like and psychological and emotional safety comes into that too. If people aren’t scared of getting it wrong or being shot down by leaders or colleagues, then they become naturally more collaborative because there's less cost to putting something out there that might be ‘different’. Leading by example and modelling the fact that this is a safe place to work is important and also extends to the way that you put forward ideas and discuss them. Here you can set a strong precedent as to how discussions around ideas can be constructive and collaborative within a psychologically safe environment.
‘Beyond that, it can help to do some basic things to help foster a feeling of team unity — for example, I make sure we all have coffee together every Wednesday for half an hour. We work in a fast-paced industry and people don't connect much so we had to construct that. It’s a bit artificial but the idea that we're just going to stop and chat for a while has some value. It gives a sense of knowing what's going on in other people's lives, where we have similarities and where we’re different.
‘On a company-wide level, we also have ‘Lunch and Learns’ where people from diverse or less represented communities do a 40-minute presentation about something they’re passionate about. I spoke about Pride and what it means to me as a member of the LGBTQ community; someone on my team spoke about Ramadan; and recently somebody else talked about her grandparents travelling here from Trinidad. Platforming that kind of diversity so it's more understood helps create an environment in which communication can flourish, helping people to understand each other and feel seen and recognised. On the flip side, it is vital to be fervent about stamping out unacceptable behaviour too. You have to be actively ‘anti’ the things that are harmful; not just ‘pro’ the things that are nice.
‘Finally, on a process level, I also wonder whether some of the problems you’re experiencing in your team might be down to underlying practical issues. Nothing breeds disharmony like deadlines that aren’t long enough, or people's hours being too long. We try hard to ensure no one works more than seven hours a day because ultimately people are more tolerant when they're not exhausted — and as a team leader that’s something you might want to investigate.’
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