I worry about two types of organizations: those with constant bickering and backbiting and those where everyone passively gets along “perfectly.” While the “perfect” environment might sound great, it’s important to know that a lack of conflict is actually an indicator that something is wrong and it isn’t safe to disagree or speak the truth. On the other end of the spectrum, incessant arguing and backstabbing indicate a lack of productive conflict resolution skills and the safety necessary in order to bring out the best in each employee. Only environments that utilize conflict productively are able to maximize productivity and profitability.
So what about you? What kind of environment are your currently working in? What kind of an environment are you promoting through your leadership?
Everything Is A Battle
High conflict organizations are characterized by constant bickering, bullying and disrespect that trickles down from the top between owners and/or senior managers, all the way down the line. Unfortunately, customers often get caught in the crosshairs.
High battle departments and companies struggle with low morale, frustration and fear. If this is happening under your watch, here’s what your employees want to say: “The fighting is embarrassing and stressful.” “I don’t get paid enough to babysit adults.” “I just keep my head down and do what I’m asked.”
What You Can’t See CAN Hurt You
On the opposite end are organizations without conflict. While seemingly ideal, such organizations are characterized by disengagement, stagnation and fear. Fear that if a dissenting opinion is voiced or there is an argument, things won’t go well, relationships will be ruined or they’ll be ostracized. Your employees may hint, but won’t directly say: “Work is boring.” “We could be so much better.” “I wish you’d ask my opinion.” “If we don’t innovate, we might cease to exist.”
The Sweet Spot of Constructive Conflict
The sweet spot for maximizing profitability and productivity is between the two extremes. In high-functioning work environments, respectful, constructive conflict is the norm. Employees are encouraged and expected to bring their “A Game,” to voice disagreements, and to tell the truth. Bullying and abusive behaviors aren’t tolerated, and employees are expected to say what they mean and mean what they say.
A key benefit of such a culture is that better solutions emerge as differing opinions are batted about and built upon.
Additionally, when employees aren’t walking on eggshells, babysitting or constantly on high alert, their energy is freed to focus on the task at hand, improve the business and boost the bottom line.
Take a look around
What about you? Where is your organization?
If you’ve got ongoing, unresolved conflict, if disagreements lead to personal attacks, if absenteeism is high, if your staff is ducking and covering or relieved when you’re on the road or when a bully is absent, it’s time to bring constructive conflict into your business.
It’s hard to do this without conflict resolution skills, but you can begin to change cultures immediately by modeling and asking others to be civil. The faculty and administration constantly bickered at the university where I taught. If one said “black,” “white” was the kneejerk response. Things immediately improved when a new president stated, “My door is open and you can say anything you want to me, but you will say it civilly.”
If your workplace is stagnant and stuck in the status quo, or you have polite but disengaged employees or passion is lacking, create a culture where your people are utilized to their full potential, where it’s ok to disagree and where your people work together to create better solutions and products. It’ll take courage and consistency, but it can be done.
If morale is high, business is growing, absenteeism is low, your employees are fully engaged, bringing up new ideas and refining processes, congratulations. You’ve created an environment that brings out the best in your employees and promotes your bottom line. Now protect your culture.
Originally published in Garden Center Magazine, July 2014, http://www.gardencentermag.com/article/garden0614-motivated-employees/