Teams Need Conflict To Function Effectively


It’s no secret that I don’t believe in “girl drama”.  I always put that phrase in quotations because I know that folks understand what I mean when I say it, but I still want them to know I think it’s a myth.  In my opinion, “girl drama” happens when conflict management goes awry.

This Harvard Business Review article, Conflict Strategies for Nice People, talks about why conflict has a place on teams.  I’d go a step further and say it’s imperative for women’s teams to understand and embrace conflict.  “Girl drama” isn’t the absence of conflict, but rather the absence of communication about the conflict.

The cost of avoiding conflict

  1. You don’t get your alternative perspective on the table.
  2. You can’t challenge faulty assumptions.
  3. You don’t have the chance to highlight hidden risks.

Why conflict is good

  1. It allows the team to address difficult situations.  Teams are wrought with difficult situations.  A teammate could be slacking off in the weight room.  Texting through a video session.  Or just not working hard in practice.  While I would certainly intervene, I’d hope my team leaders would feel comfortable interjecting themselves into the narrative.
  2. It creates a space to synthesize diverse perspectives.  Years ago, I had a team with very different ideas about the way the team should conduct themselves after games, especially after losses.  One camp was the “hush your mouth and don’t say anything to me” group, while the other was the “that game is over so no need to be down-faced about it”.  They were able to come together and find a happy medium that worked for everyone.
  3. It pushes the team to make sure solutions are well thought out.  Not communicating is easy, because it doesn’t involve compromise.  Once we start talking and hearing diverse opinions, coming to a thoughtful resolution is harder, but will have more buy-in since there was compromise and communication.
  4. It is the source of true innovation.  Sometimes the way we’ve always done things needs to change.  Just because we’ve always done it doesn’t mean it’s best, right, or effective.
  5. It is a critical process in identifying and alleviating risks.  Conflict puts us into a space where we’re hearing differing opinions.  Those different opinions give us, as coaches, a more nuanced view of our team. We should embrace a little conflict among our staff to make sure we’re making the best choices for the benefit of our teams.  Our coaches have to feel free to challenge us on our decisions or what’s the point of having them there?

Commit to conflict

So we all agree that conflict is good, right?  Don’t go away just yet!  Now you’ve got to teach your players effective conflict resolution strategies or you’ll have a bunch of feuding cliques on your team.  Check out this post, Feeling Comfortable With Conflict, for some ideas.