6 Strategies to Stir Positive Conflict

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Want to fight?

Nothing affects team production like the quality of the team’s communication. One essential characteristic of great team communication is open, honest communication. That kind of talk always creates conflict as people express divergent views, ideas, and strategies.  Engaging and managing conflict well is essential for a team to avoid mediocrity and become great.

Even in the church, great leadership and ministry teams fight to maintain unity around their common purpose and vision.   In fact, they make “fighting” a regular part of team meetings.   Of course, that means constructive, respectful, and fair fighting about ideas, not about people.

Here are six ways to stir constructive conflict in your staff meetings, no matter which chair you sit in:

  1. Model respectful, assertive, thoughtful, and honest critiques of ministry ideas and plans, and invite others to do the same of your own ideas and plans.
  2. Celebrate group members who say the hard thing even when it is uncomfortable to do so.
  3. Cultivate a norm (expectation) of: “If you see something, say it.”  Don’t allow group members to keep their thoughts about a proposed direction to themselves, even if they are critical or contrary.  They at least deserve to be heard and considered, even if dismissed later.
  4. Hold group members accountable to that norm.  If you find out later that someone was able to “see around the corner” on an issue, but didn’t voice that perspective, confront it, first privately, and then perhaps with the rest of the team.
  5. Assign one or more people to play the role of “devil’s advocate” in every meeting.  Make it that person’s (or group’s) job to search for problems, shortcomings, and oversights with the group’s decisions and plans.
  6. At least once a month, go around the table and ask each team member to identify one area in which the team or the church or ministry could improve.  Require every person to answer the question.  Then, either talk about those issues immediately, or put them on a future agenda.

In any case, don’t shut down conflict. 

Encourage it. 

It is the fuel your team needs to maximize its impact. 

Reflection Moment: 

How do you promote constructive conflict among your team or small group?




  1. Jen November 19, 2012 at 1:12 am - Reply

    I think the above are fantastic ideas of how to ‘fight well’. However, I think one key here is that it is assuming that the team is healthy, meaning that they can trust each other enough to be that vunerable. So many team members get guarded and closed off because there is an underline mistrust amongst the members themselves. What are some practical ways to build trust that could get us to a point where these 6 steps of fighting well could be engaged?

    • Ryan Hartwig November 19, 2012 at 9:00 am - Reply

      Yeah, that’s a great question. Trust is very important, but you don’t get trust by focusing on trust. I unpack this idea more fully in my eBook (which you can get for free by simply subscribing to the site), but trust is built as team members jointly pursue their team’s purpose. In other words, trust builds as a team gets to work. Often we think we must build trust before we work, but the opposite is true. We work to get to trust. It’s by working together, challenging one another, and engaging in conflict, all directed toward a common purpose that we begin to build trust. As such, trust is an output of team performance before it serves as an ongoing input to ongoing performance.

      Once the purpose is established and the team is working toward it, there’s nothing wrong with doing some get-to-know-you activities, as long as they come after the development of clear purpose. Again, I encourage you to get the eBook for a much deeper response (www.ryanhartwig.com/burst).

      – Ryan

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