Leaders around the globe all seem to want less conflict. We want everyone to manage their conflicts better. We just want people to get along!
Let’s face it though, if you have more than one person in an organization, conflict is inevitable. And what you may be missing is that you should actually WANT it that way!
People are assigned different roles and responsibilities in an organization. As such, they are committed to different expectations, purposes, and results. They are focused on those every day and their performance is assessed on them. These individual expectations don’t always nest nicely with the other people’s performance expectations, purposes and results. Sometimes they might even compete!
For example, in our work with a successful insurance company: the risk management folks want to take policies where there is a low probability of payout. However, the salespeople are incentivized to sell as much as possible to all the potential clients in their contact list.
Can you see the built-in conflict? The salespeople will constantly be asking the risk folks to ease up and allow riskier policies. And vice versa, the risk folks will want the salespeople to be more selective. For an insurance company as a whole, you want the risk people to manage risk. And, you want the salespeople to be aggressive in making sales. Competing interests create conflict.
Every organization has these built-in areas of conflict…desirable conflict. This is where leadership comes in. A good leader’s job is to manage the conflict by finding a way to maximize the overall organizational value. To paraphrase Ram Charan, “Organizations divide, leaders integrate”.
So, the next time you are presented with conflict, acknowledge that often people are starting from exactly where you want them to be given their responsibilities. [Notice I said “starting”]. Step into the role of leadership: explore the solution that maximizes the overall system and organizational value.
It’s much easier when you realize that so much of what we see as challenging conflict is really the system, and the people, operating exactly as they should. Maximize that conflict to the benefit of the business!