Want Collaboration? Accept —and Actively Manage— Conflict

Getting collaboration right promises tremendous benefits, but despite the billions of dollars spent on initiatives to improve collaboration, few companies are happy with the results.

The problem is that most companies respond to the challenge of improving collaboration in entirely the wrong way. They focus on the symptoms (“Sales and delivery do not work together as closely as they should”) rather than on the root cause of failures in cooperation: conflict. You can’t improve collaboration until you’ve addressed the issue of conflict.

Executives underestimate not only the inevitability of conflict but also —and this is key— its importance to the organization. The disagreements sparked by differences in perspective, competencies, access to information, and strategic focus within a company actually generate much of the value that can come from collaboration accross organizational boundaries.

Clashes between parties are the crucibles in which creative solutions are developed and wise trade-offs among competing objectives are made. So instead of trying simply to reduce disagreements, executives need to embrace conflict and, just as important, institutionalize mechanisms for managing it.

Summing-up: The quest for harmony and common goals can actually obstruct teamwork. Managers get truly effective collaboration only when they realize that conflict is natural and necessary.

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