Conflict, Trust, and Teams

In the Forethought section of this month’s Harvard Business Review, there’s a nice piece about conflict in teams. Its basic message seems identical, actually, to the message in Patrick Lencioni’s Five Dysfunctions of a Team, although this is based in a research study. Bottom line: if you cut off conflict in senior teams, you can impede trust, and low trust wreaks havoc on senior teams. It makes buy-in hard, and it makes decisions feel “imposed.”

But I particularly like their last point:

If, as a CEO, you read this recommendation and think it doesn’t apply to your top management team, think again. To our surprise and theirs, the vast majority of CEOs in our study couldn’t accurately describe the level of trust among their fellow team members. It’s as if they were describing a different team and did not realize it.

The issue of trust in a team is very slippery. Most of the time, it’s easy to assume that it is there, but when it starts to erode, it’s not a topic that people feel safe to talk about—a real catch-22. That’s why the capacity for deep communication is so critical in teams. Just because you think you know what’s going on in your team, doesn’t mean that you do!