Sunday, October 12, 2014

Conflicts are good for the workplace...

For many, conflict immediately invokes thoughts of hostility, shouting matches, or even negative relationships. Certainly, this is not what I am suggesting as good for the workplace. Conflict is a natural process of communication and facilitates the sharing of divergent point of views.  The process of getting multiple perspectives on any issue is critical to identifying problems, designing interventions, and producing optimal solutions.  Without conflict, you tend to have groupthink, you discourage innovation, and you discourage learning, none of which are good for a productive work environment. Many years ago I recall an executive in our group who while we were in the early part of discussion of an important issue would agree with the other senior executive without really having a proper discussion and blurt out "Yep, we are aligned". Nothing would irritate me more. I am all for teamwork and being collaborative, but it is also important to create an environment at workplace where people can speak their mind, debate and disagree vigorously but finally get on-board on a direction that is either consensus based or majority opinion based and at times following the original marching orders (because the CEO said so), but atleast you have weighed the pros and cons of a direction openly.

Recently, I was watching a 1995 interview of Steve Jobs called "Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview" released few years ago and he describes this beautifully in one portion of the interview. It is a must see for anyone leading a team building a product or even building a great team. Here is the excerpt from that interview where he discusses it.

"Designing a product is keeping 5000 things in your brain -- these concepts--and fitting them all together and kind of continuing to push to fit them together in new and different ways to get what you want. And every day you discover something new that is a new problem or a new opportunity to fit these things together a little differently. And it's that process that is the magic. And so we had a lot of great ideas when we started, but what I've always felt that a team of people doing something they really believe in is like--is like when I was a young kid there was a widowed man that lived up the street. And he was in his 80s. He was a little scary-looking. And I got to know him a little bit. I think he might have paid me to mow his lawn or something. And one day he said, "Come on into my garage. I want to show you something." And he pulled this dusty rock tumbler. It was a motor and a coffee can and a little band between them. And he said, "Come on with me." We went out to the back and we got some--just some rocks, some regular old ugly rocks. And we put them in the can with a little bit of liquid and a little bit of grit powder. And we closed the can up. And he turned this motor on and said, "Come back tomorrow." And this can was making, you know, a racket as the stones went around. And I came back the next day. And we took-- we open the can. And we took out these amazingly beautiful polished rocks. The same common stones that had gone in, through rubbing against each other like this, creating a little bit of friction, creating a little bit of noise, had come out these beautiful polished rocks. And that's always been in my mind. My metaphor for a team working really hard on something they're passionate about--is that it's through the team, through that group of incredibly talented people bumping up against each other, having arguments, having fights sometimes, making some noise, and working together, they polish each other and they polish the ideas. And what comes out are these really beautiful stones..."