Skip to content

Productive Conflict is an Obligation

A weekly post in which I share (some of) the most thought-provoking content I read this week(ish), which I am too lazy to write full blog posts about.



If Your Team Agrees on Everything Then Working Together is Pointless – Harvard Business Review

When was the last time your team disagreed about something important? Is the memory a negative or positive one? I suspect that many of us have been conditioned to value harmonious collegiality over spirited debate and challenging others’ ideas. And yet, when plans go awry or projects are delayed, it’s not unusual to hear murmurs of “I knew that this approach wasn’t going to work.”

“Collaboration is crumpling under the weight of our expectations. What should be a messy back-and-forth process far too often falls victim to our desire to keep things harmonious and efficient.”

This HBR article serves as a great reminder that indulging our instinct to avoid interpersonal discomfort can have real costs to team outcomes, and that the value to be found in collaboration is in examining problems and solutions from vantage points other than your own. Indeed, I’ve written about the risk that group think creates for teams before.

What I most enjoyed about this article is the observation that encouraging team members to offer dissenting opinions is simply not enough:

“After all, giving someone permission to do something they don’t want to do is no guarantee that they’ll do it. If you want to create productive conflict on your team and use it to generate better ideas, you need to move beyond permission to making productive conflict an obligation.”

Click through to read about three specific steps to try to harness constructive conflict on your team.

Performance Appraisals

How GE Modernized the Annual Performance Review – NOBL Collective

There’s a lot of good content out there recently about the move away from traditional performance management. I really liked this short and practical post from NOBL Collective.

As a gigantic, established organization, GE’s approach might be of interest to anyone who thinks that their company culture couldn’t possibly shift away from the once-a-year standard process.

Some key components of GE’s approach include:

  1. Create a platform for continual assessment

While it’s been said before, the reports of performance management’s death have been greatly exaggerated. Likely to the dismay of many who loathe giving (or receiving) feedback, in many cases more frequent and better feedback is the cure for what ails your PM approach in this faster moving world we all live in. That means getting better at giving timely and constructive feedback to course correct and support your team’s success, not crossing it off your to do list.

2. Reward progress, not just being right.

This is a great point, and no, it’s not the equivalent of handing out ‘participation trophies’. Do you talk about wanting a culture that encourages ingenuity, risk taking, and ‘innovation’? Then doing this is SO critical. Better yet, also implement a ‘lessons learned’ retrospective process that helps individuals and teams figure out what part of their approach was effective, and what they’ll do differently next time for a better outcome.

3. Give rewards throughout the year.

Makes sense; if you’re on board the continual feedback train but still rewarding people with an annual bonus…well, pick a side already! If your organization determines that you’ll continue to link compensation to performance (and I suspect that many organizations will still do so, even if they get rid of ratings and/or annual/traditional performance management), then I think you need to assess how that links to a more continuous feedback process.

4. Meet for a brief annual summary.

In addition to frequent check-ins, GE has opted to keep a part of their traditional performance management cadence and meet annually.  Interesting…perhaps the principle is to keep the parts of your traditional PM approach that you determine provide the org and your team members value. It’s certainly my experience that temporal markers like an annual event can be powerful initiators for reflection and planning – it’s why so many people (myself included) love new year resolutions. In short, the lesson seems to be to use what works, and not get too hung up on demolishing all signs of the old for the new…which necessitates some discussion to determine what is working in your current process and what isn’t before you set your annual appraisal form alight (easy, sparky).

5. Don’t limit employees to a label

I like this one a lot!  I agree that there is a powerful tendency for the labels we give ourselves or others to become self-fulfilling prophecies. The human brain is so susceptible to biases that we cannot seriously believe that describing employees as a being “a 3” or an “average performer” will not influence the lens through which we view their future performance. I agree that eliminating ratings entirely may not be workable for many organizations, and may in fact simply shift the biases to less concrete and transparent terms. However, I have witnessed how difficult it is for individuals and organizations to not see people (rather than their performance) as the rating they’ve been given. Team members who find themselves in a changing role that doesn’t play to their strengths may simply be written off as someone who’ll “never be a top performer”, making it unlikely that they’ll be given the support or opportunity to do so. In increasingly complex and networked organizations, basing your entire PM and compensation system on a label applied to individual performance,as though it happened in a vacuum, is foolish.

That’s it for this week folks, it was a tough one. Any thoughts on these reads? Any great stuff you came across that I may have missed?


Image credit: Geoffrey Arduini via

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: