Category: Fear of Conflict


Back in the first seasons of Saturday Night Live, in their Weekly Update segment, Dan Ackroyd and Jane Curtin would verbally spar about the issue of the week. At some point or another Jane would launch into a diatribe about her point of view.  When she would pause to take a breath Ackroyd would look at her with a mixture of disdain and pity and say “Jane, you ignorant ….”

Inevitably it would draw laughs but perhaps the deeper message behind the dynamic was about  how or whether groups who engage in an issue for their analysis should or should not agree with each other.

Lencioni, in his Five Dysfunctions books, focuses on this issue as the second dysfunction of a group, Fear of Conflict. Namely, how can a team be effective together unless it knows how to constructively disagree with each other?

What’s that you say, shouldn’t collegial circle groups, work study teams, committees, shared decision groups, department meeting  always be congenial, affable,, and cohesive?

What’s that you say, shouldn’t collegial circle groups, work study teams, committees, shared decision groups, department meetings always be positive, agreeable, and friendly?

What’s that you say, shouldn’t collegial circle groups, work study teams, committees, shared decision groups, department meeting aways be accepting, and avoid conflict?

Obviously the answer to the above question is a literary device to get you to say “FALSE”!

If the choices are between True or False, False is the right answer. However as with most true / false questions, there are nuances to each statement that could influence a respondent to think gray instead of black or white. After all neither Lencioni nor I am advocating for name calling and vitriol.

Obviously  – Obviously, we need to distill the three sentences for their common “message: ”

And that is, “Is there, should there, be room in the dynamics of a team for disagreement?”

Of course. And yet, think about meetings in which you have participated where members have said or supported a “truism” that was patently false or inaccurate and yet was allowed to slide through because of a reluctance of other members to question its veracity?

On one level and for sure, the team leader / facilitator has several responsibilities to make a dysfunctional team functional in regard to this particular set of team behaviors. (S)he must

– not permit personal attacks

– permit members to ask other members to cite evidence and logic for their points of view

– point out inconsistencies if no one else is willing to do so

– if necessary, train the group how to, as Covey put it, “seek first to understand before being understood.”

– if necessary, train the group to use inquiry skills in order to more nearly burn off emotional, non-logical conclusions in favor of reasoned – logical ones.

So, what would a FUNCTIONAL group look like in this regard?

Most likely the Facilitator would permit stakeholders to offer points of view. Then (S)he would make room in the analysis to follow for questions and probes of each other so that over a series of such dynamics, the group would recognize where a “conclusion” was indeed valid or if not, how they can rework the premise so that it is valid.

In systems thinking, particularly in Team Learning, such a skills set, both of the Leader and of her  participants, is vital so that the group’s comfort with each other to inquire and to build together is not a function of  often mindless group-think and more nearly one of  Collective Smart Think.

Recently I was on a Dissertation committee where the candidate proposed an action research study that would among other things, involve training fellow music teachers in using and collaborating about evaluating music teachers’ “effectiveness” in their instruction via a Moodle approach.

The proposal was excellent and has much, much promise for teachers on “non”-academic subjects as they will also be responsible for showing student “growth” by requirement of the New York State Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR). His dissertation defense few months later was beyond terrific.

In the beginning though , I  was more than a little bit skeptical about the training-of-colleagues component with the Moodle. Moodle is an open source wiki-like Web 2.0 approach. A wiki site if you have never used Wikipedia as an example,  is a site that enables its members to add to, elaborate, and create new information for that site for the rest of its viewers.

This soon-to-be- Ed.D’s premise was that the Moodle would be a source to its participants in shaping how they might incorporate the online rating system that he had developed. It would also serve as a training platform so that participants could learn how to both use the Moodle and to implement the rating system.

At the time I remarked to now Dr. X, “This could be like herding cats.”

By the way, he more than pulled it off. However my concern in principle for all groups,whether face-to-face, or virtual had validity. For you see, as you already know instinctively, groups need to both be grown and grow themselves.

This is no easy task. Although there are plenty of examples to offer I’d like to offer Patrick Lencioni’s work as a good example.

Lencioni’s book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team captures issues associated with effective group development in a tiered system that has much value.

  1. Absence of Trust
  2. Fear of Conflict
  3. Lack of Commitment
  4. Avoidance of Accountability
  5. Inattention to Results

In closing this blog post I’d strongly suggest that the Group Facilitator (I hate that word) not keep Lencioni’s Five Dysfunctions as secret code. In fact, it is both healthy and conducive to the group’s evolution that they become aware of these Five Dysfunctions as they operate among each other. As they learn the “language” they learn to be aware of the presence of these dysfunctions and more likely collaborate to eliminate or reduce them!

Next blog post – Absence of  TRUST!