Skillfully managed conflict can propel an organization down a path of new opportunities, awareness, innovation and growth. Handled badly, a dispute can quickly cause distraction, raise stress levels, and create barriers to good things like productivity, communications, and creativity.
The literature supports this position; however, only tip-of-the-arrow companies are seeing the value in investing in conflict management training. Is there ROI on an organization’s investment in training and support for the purpose of developing conflict competency skills and systems before a dispute arises?
Yes, says Diane Duvall, Mediator, Conflict Coach, and Resologics’ Senior Practitioner. She presents a compelling case for the organizational advantages of conflict management training. Here are the highlights - read Diane’s full article here.
Defining “management skills”
There is more than one way to train a team in conflict management skills - we are looking at “pro-social behavior” as a core element. Broadly defined, pro-social behavior encompasses qualities such as fairness, cooperation, camaraderie and compassion, which are associated with higher levels of motivation in the workplace, as well as better job performance and satisfaction. (Sources: Monica C. Worline and Jane E. Dutton; Tabibnia G & Leiberman M )
Reducing the likelihood of badly-handled conflict
Conflict management training provides the direct advantage of reducing the likelihood of badly handled conflict. In fact, research shows that one of the most valuable tools a working team can possess is the ability to respond to disagreements in a pro-social manner. When the leadership and core values of an organization provide a supportive atmosphere for team members to meet disputes and disagreements with pro-social responses, it improves productivity and financial performance, boosts profitability and effectiveness, and increases customer and employee retention over time. (Source: Kim S. Cameron, David Bright, and Arran Caza) The reverse of this is also true: badly-handled - or ignored - conflict can lead to lower productivity, profitability, and employee retention, as well as erosion of the trust, motivation and engagement that are keys to a thriving organization.
Welcoming and Sparking Innovation
The ability to innovate is enhanced in organizations where conflict is skillfully addressed and taken in stride by the team. When the workplace culture includes the understanding that disagreements can be a rich source of new ideas, and that mistakes are learning opportunities, it creates a sense of psychological safety, which increases the ability to learn new things and sets the stage for open-minded sharing of new ideas. (Source: Amy Edmondson). Simply put, the opposite of this is fear, mistrust, group-think, and stagnant growth.
Building effective, nimble teams
An atmosphere of respect, trust, and strong human connections also creates the necessary foundation for rapid coordination among team members. The benefits to the organization include better financial performance and higher efficiency, quality, and safety. (Sources: Jody Hoffer Gittell; Jody Hoffer Gittell and Caroline K. Logan)
Resologics’ own research and analysis find that the highest-performing teams are those which have built conflict competence into their structure and culture. Pro-social behaviors are a key part of a team’s ability to successfully function efficiently and take action toward common goals in measurable ways (Source: Resologics Implemetrics ™)
Supporting employee engagement and retention
Pro-social conflict management skills also enhance an organization’s ability to keep their employees. If doing great work requires great people, then it is a key strategic advantage to be able to find and hang on to the best people for the job. When employees experience the benefit of good conflict management, such as compassionate responses to personal difficulties and attention to solving problems instead of responding with judgment or blame, they demonstrate a greater commitment to their organization. (Source: Lilius, J., Worline, M., Maitlis, S., Kanov, J., Dutton, J., & Frost, P)
Skilled conflict management leads to higher employee engagement and enthusiasm, and these qualities are directly related to profitability and productivity. (Source: Harter, J., Schmidt, F., Hayes, T.) For example, one study shows a correlation between greater employee engagement and far higher Earnings Per Share (nearly 150% higher than competitors). (Source: Gallup) By extension, engaged employees tend to create engaged customers, and engaged customers spend more money. (Source: Gallup)
The bottom line: Conflict management training is an excellent investment
Training teams to use high-quality conflict management skills can improve outcomes across multiple indicators of organizational success. Teams build new avenues of creativity and productivity. Pro-social behavior in the workplace holds the promise of a quantifiable return on every dollar allocated and every hour spent on the management training process. And the value of harnessing the catalytic energy of opposing ideas, creative tension, and open communication is immeasurable.