Diversity and Productive Conflict

A friend recently posted the following excerpt from Patrick Lencioni on his blog, and it was so good that I had to share it here, too:

“Which brings me back to the power of diversity, and the reason why it remains so misunderstood and under-exploited in most organizations: it requires conflict.

The practical advantage of diversity boils down to this: a group of people with different perspectives usually makes better decisions and finds more creative solutions than those who have largely similar views, backgrounds and skill sets. This is true for all teams, whether they’re running a corporation, a church, a school or a movie studio. However, when a team cannot productively engage in conflict, not only does that diversity remain untapped, it becomes a competitive disadvantage.

That’s because when team members with divergent points of view cannot openly and passionately advocate their positions, the team will not be able to properly understand and incorporate those ideas into a final decision. Instead, they will frustratingly agree to compromise, walking away dissatisfied with the outcome and resentful of their team members who they still don’t understand.

This is the norm in virtually every organization where I’ve worked or consulted. And that’s because when we talk about diversity, the emphasis is usually on acceptance and tolerance and “getting along.” All of which, of course, are good things. The problem surfaces when those qualities prevent people from challenging one another’s points of view out of fear of being labeled close-minded or intolerant.

And so the key to making diversity work is to teach people first how to appreciate one another’s differences, and then how to challenge them in the context of pursuing the best possible outcome. When a company can do that, it will transform diversity from a slogan to a real competitive advantage.”

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