Team Collaboration: If Your Team Agrees on Everything, Working Together Is Pointless
Collaboration is crumpling under the weight of our expectations. What should be a messy process too often falls victim to our desire to keep things harmonious and efficient. Collaboration’s promise of greater innovation and risk mitigation can go unfulfilled because of cultural norms that rely on agreement, being supportive, and smiling all the time. The common version of collaboration is desperately in need of a little more conflict.
Conflict has a place
You’ve probably learned to see collaboration and conflict as opposites. In some cultures the language and imagery of teamwork is overly idyllic. Rowers in perfect sync. Planes flying in tight formation. As a team, you’re “all in the same boat.” To be a good team player, you must “row in the same direction.” These idealised versions of teamwork and collaboration are making many teams impotent.
There’s no point in collaboration without tension, disagreement, or conflict. What we need is collaboration where tension, disagreement, and conflict improve the value of the ideas, expose the risks inherent in the plan, and lead to enhanced trust among the participants.
Collaboration Needs Disagreement
It’s time to change your mindset about conflict. Let go of the idea that all conflict is destructive, and embrace the idea that productive conflict creates value. If you think beyond the clichés, it’s obvious: Collaborating is unnecessary if you agree on everything. Building on one another’s ideas only gets you incremental thinking. If you avoid disagreeing, you leave faulty assumptions unexposed. As Walter Lippmann said, “Where all think alike, no one thinks very much.” To maximise the benefit of collaborating, you need to diverge before you converge. Unfortunately, our distaste for conflict is so entrenched that even modest disagreement takes significant effort.