Healthy conflict is the catalyst of extraordinary performance. If your church leadership team never has conflict, then something is wrong. Effective teams welcome healthy conflict – and they manage it in such a way that it actually aids the team.
Numerous studies overwhelmingly suggest that task conflict is good, whereas affective, or relationship, conflict is bad. In other words, team members should challenge each other’s ideas, interrogate one another’s beliefs and values, and willingly offer different perspectives while refraining from attacking others in the process, or making snide, sarcastic comments in the process.
Based on our recent study of nearly 150 church leadership teams, we encourage you to cultivate the kind of conflict that fuels great team performances. We found that thriving teams engaged in challenging dialogue. They also cultivated (rather than squashed) healthy conflict significantly more than under-performing teams.
To spur healthy “task conflict” on your team, we suggest that you and your teammates:
- Vigorously solicit critiques of plans, decisions and assumptions guiding decision making.
- Model respectful, assertive, thoughtful and honest critiques of ministry ideas and plans, and invite others to do the same of your own ideas and plans.
- Celebrate group members who say the hard thing even when it is uncomfortable to do so.
- Cultivate a norm (expectation) of “If you see something, say it.” Don’t allow group members to keep their thoughts about a proposed direction to themselves, even if they are critical or contrary. They at least deserve to be heard and considered, even if dismissed later.
- Hold group members accountable to that norm. If you find out later that someone was able to “see around the corner” on an issue but didn’t voice that perspective, confront it, first privately and then perhaps with the rest of the team.
- Assign one or more people to play the role of “devil’s advocate” in every meeting. Make it that person’s (or group’s) job to search for problems, shortcomings and oversights with the group’s decisions and plans. Rotating this role among team members reduces the likelihood of resentment toward a well-functioning devil’s advocate.
- On a regular basis, go around the table and ask each team member to identify one area in which the team, church or ministry could improve. Require every person to answer the question. Then, either talk about those issues immediately, or put them on a future agenda.
In any case, don’t shut down this kind of conflict. Encourage it. It is the fuel your team needs to maximize its impact.
For more about how to cultivate powerful conversations and effectively managing conflict on your team, as well as a host of other tips to help your team thrive, see Teams That Thrive: Five Disciplines of Collaborative Church Leadership.
Excerpted with permission from chapter 11 of Teams That Thrive: Five Disciplines of Collaborative Church Leadership by Ryan T. Hartwig and Warren Bird, InterVarsity Press, 2015. Visit www.TeamsThatThriveBook.com for the book itself, exercises, and other tools to help your team.