For some years now, collaboration has been held up as the gold standard for workplace management styles. But if you interpret collaboration as the absence of workplace conflict, you may find your teams less productive than you had hoped. That is because collaboration and conflict aren’t opposites. In fact, you can’t truly have one without a healthy relationship with the other.

Collaboration is a Conflict Management Strategy at Its Heart

While many corporate managers and leaders think of collaboration in terms of productivity, at its heart, it is a conflict management strategy. Collaboration can lead to increased productivity and creativity among your team. However, it does so by giving them a working environment that respects their differences and gives them an opportunity to gain consensus from their teammates.

In team-based employment situations, where employees work together to resolve complicated problems and challenge corporate assumptions. When given the time and space to work through their conflicts with respect and cooperation, employees with a collaborative mindset can come to new and innovative solutions for your company’s toughest problems.

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Collaboration and Conflict Aren’t Opposites

Many public speakers who make their money promoting collaboration use metaphors that assume that everyone is going in the same direction without question: rowing teams stroking through the water together, geese flying in formation, or a “well-oiled machine.” But the reality is that collaboration is at its strongest in the face of struggle and conflict.

Collaboration without conflict simply maintains the status quo. It allows team members to execute management’s vision, often highly effectively. However, it never tests the assumptions of those at the top. Indeed, if your team never expresses any workplace conflict, it could be a sign that your collaborative environment isn’t as well-oiled as you believe. It could be that your workers do not trust their team members and supervisors enough to voice their differing opinions. They may choose to swallow or avoid conflict, rather than resolving it. However, as conflict simmers under the surface, resentment can build between employees, preventing them from working together effectively.

How Conflict Drives Collaboration

On the other hand, if everyone on your team is in entire agreement about the team’s goals, processes, and methods, that inherently means that no one is challenging your company or pushing it outside what is comfortable and known. For teams to make the most of a collaborative conflict management strategy, you need to fill your team with people with strengths that include divergent thinking, as well as cooperation and problem solving. But in order for thoughts to diverge, it will necessarily result in a conflict of ideas, priorities, or beliefs.

This is a good thing. When given the time and freedom to work through it, team conflict can drive collaboration to improve your company’s systems, creating better, more robust, and more productive solutions to the obstacles that every company will eventually face. By testing, discussing, and working through the conflicts, your employees’ work can be tempered, like metal, burning away impurities and leaving a stronger, more refined solution to your company’s problems.

By embracing conflict and using collaboration as a conflict management strategy as it is intended, you can build trust among your team, encourage creativity and divergent thinking, and improve the quality of the work your team members produce.

David Stanislaw is leadership and executive coach with over 30 years’ experience helping managers and leaders manage teams effectively and resolve workplace conflictContact us to meet with David and bring on a thought partner for your business goals today.