Conflict is a part of everyday life; whether it’s someone cutting you in line at Starbucks, an argument with your spouse about what to eat for dinner, or a disagreement with a co-worker about how to prepare for a zombie attack. In these instances, the conflict isn’t really that big of problem. But, what about disagreements over pricing for a new product or departmental funding? These situations can have major ramifications among team members and some organizations will try to avoid conflict at all costs. But is that healthy? Should conflict be eliminated?

In many cases the answer is no, opposing opinions and ideas are crucial to the success of an organization. Continually questioning what is right allows organizations to stay ahead of trends and adapt to market changes. In fact, in his recent HBR blog article Mark de Rond states that “rivalry within a team helps weed out inefficiencies and – however uncomfortable it may feel at times – also keeps people at the top of their game.”

If Isaac Newton had not questioned gravity or Steve Jobs not questioned the use for a personal computer where would we be today? The highest performing teams are usually composed of a diverse group of people; different backgrounds, different specialties, different ways of thinking. With so many differences, conflict is bound to happen. The difference between a high-performance team and a low-performance team is how the conflict is handled.

According to Donald Brown in An Experiential Approach to Organizational Development there are five different ways to deal with conflict. These are based on two dimensions; the desire to satisfy others and the desire to satisfy self.

  • Avoiding: people who have a low desire to satisfy themselves and others and are passive aggressive or draw away from conflict.
  • Obliging: people who like to satisfy others and smooth over conflict despite their opposing views.
  • Dominating: people who care more about their personal objectives and ignore the needs of others.
  • Compromising: people who seek out a compromise between all parties leaving everyone only partially satisfied.
  • Integrating: people who seek to examine differences in opinion by sharing information to reach a consensus or win-win situation.

Teams that consist of mainly avoiding, obliging or dominating members will typically have a lower performance because one or two people will dominate the ideas within a group. Important points may be overlooked because members who like to avoid conflict or smooth things over are afraid to upset the harmony of the group.

On the other hand, teams that consist of members who approach conflict with an open mind are more likely to come up with a well-rounded and sustainable solution. Potential holes or flaws are openly discussed and the solution is adapted to address many of these points.

Constantly challenging one another forces everyone to stay at the top of their game. Team members will research and educate themselves more before putting forth an idea in order to answer the team’s constructive criticism. More importantly, if everyone is working towards a common goal, that zombie attack will be a lot easier to fend off at the end of the day. For example, Kim’s idea of commandeering an Army tank sounds great, but when you run out of ammunition and the gas tank is empty, you will be glad that Barry insisted on also bringing a samurai sword.