The Most Effective Innovation Generator You've Probably Never Heard of

Many businesses rely on innovation for success. There is a lot of literature on how to encourage the creative thinking that inspires innovation, but you won’t often hear this tip: Welcome conflict into your teams!

Yet this is exactly what I’m enthusiastically promoting. It sounds counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? Most leaders are busy looking for ways to avoid fights and disputes, not invite them.

Conflict is a natural part of human behavior and a necessary part of teamwork.  Let’s look at it this way: The opposite of conflict is agreement. If everyone on your team agreed all the time, where would creative ideas, change and innovation come from? In an environment with no conflict (meaning no differing opinions, thoughts or ideas - in other words, ‘groupthink’), it might not make sense to work together at all. Without conflict, team synergy, engagement, and creativity cannot be maximized.

Why promote constructive conflict in your organization?

While not all conflicts are healthy to a workplace, constructive conflict well understood, welcomed and managed, can become a powerful innovation generator.

A significant body of research shows that companies which foster constructive conflict are more creative, innovative, and productive. In today’s competitive environment, these are key elements to success, especially for a startup. 

The Upside of Conflict

If you as a leader are serious about innovation and growth in your business, then consider the upsides of conflict:

  •  Effective teams use constructive resolutions of workplace conflict to spur innovation, says CPP’s Global Human Capital Report, "Workplace Conflict and How Business Can Harness It To Thrive.”  The study concludes that open workplace conflict produces bursts of activity that breed innovation and higher performance.
  • A workplace environment that encourages free thinking, open communication and constructive conflict is a favorable one to the employees/team members. The study found that: “Roughly three-quarters of workers reported positive outcomes that resulted from conflict - results that in all likelihood would not have been produced if conflict was not initiated.”
  • In workplaces without some constructive conflict planning, teams tend toward avoidance and accommodating behavior, which can lead to stagnation and dis-engagement. The unplanned for and haphazard use of conflict within teams can sometimes enhance performance, yet this approach - as well as avoiding conflict in general - carries with it the greater risk of negative outcomes..
  • As conflict advisors, our analysis of current research as well as our extensive experience ‘on the ground’ working with clients have taught us this: Constructive conflict is an extremely valuable tool that can help business teams enhance performance when it is actively and thoughtfully engaged in.  Meeting conflict head-on with systems, structure and skillful management harnesses its power of igniting innovation.

Creating the Right Climate

These elements are crucial to incorporating a culture of constructive creative conflict (and it starts at the top leadership levels):

  • Trust
  • Transparency
  • Respect for differences and other points of view
  • Safety – an environment that makes it safe for dissent and open opinion
  • System to proactively welcome and capture ideas
  • Training, practice and support in team-building, problem-solving, respectful discourse, conflict management

Your team is your most important investment in growth. And you hired each member for his or her skills, intelligence, experience, and creativity–not to be part of groupthink. Use that creativity and talent by harnessing the power of conflict.