Encourage good conflicts at staff meetings, and an insightful method to improve

An interesting article in the Harvard Bus. Rev., Vol. 87, Dec. 2009 at 48, 55 extols the virtues of moderate conflicts among senior managers. A general counsel would do well to consider how to spark healthy disagreements among the lawyers and others who form the senior legal team (See my post of July 16, 2009: training on conflict management.). One exercise outlined in the article can be eye-opening.

Invite a couple of trusted outsiders, with experience in team dynamics, to observe your staff group in action as it debates a contentious issue, “taking detailed notes about who said what, when it was said, how long a particular conversation took, what the group’s reaction was, and so on.” The sidebar says that the observers stop when they have enough material and openly discuss it among themselves in front of the group! They discuss norms, roles, informal influence techniques (peer pressure, for example, or group think). They give examples and do not judge anyone.

This is daring, but I can well imagine the dynamics can improve, the transgressions called out, the lurkers made aware, the bullies reprimanded, and much more (See my post of Jan. 17, 2006: passive-aggressive behavior.).

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