Difference and challenge in teams
Difference and challenge in teams

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Difference and challenge in teams

4 ‘Is compromise good enough?’

Kai is a manager interested in developing a better team, as you will hear from the audio below (a transcript is also provided).

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We’ve reached a compromise on this, but is it good enough? Yes, it’s something we can all live with; neither of us have lost face – we’re all good. I suppose that under the circumstances it was what we needed to do, but I’ve got this nagging doubt that if she’d gone with my proposal we’d be delivering a much better service to the client.

End transcript
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There is always more than one way to achieve the same set of objectives, and differences of approach within the team produces disagreement. The ‘conflict’ may escalate – we must be mindful of differences in opinion; it may impact on the efficiency of a team as time is taken debating the right way forward, so reaching a compromise position is often seen as a really good team achievement. In the activity that follows, we challenge the assumption that compromise is always the ‘best’ way for a team to travel together. We shift the emphasis to a more collaborative approach which involves more dialogue (perhaps even a lot of challenge and ‘conflict’) and can secure solutions that stakeholders can share.

Activity 6

Timing: (10 minutes)

When did you last reach a compromise? In reaching that compromise did you have to ‘give way’ to others? Did you feel pressure to reach that compromise? Where did you feel that pressure came from?

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Through dialogue, both parties in a conflict can come to a new, agreed position on an issue. Interestingly, where there is opportunity for true dialogue, we can agree without having to compromise. To see why, consider the following interactive figure which looks at the balance between assertiveness and cooperation. For clarity, we define these two terms as follows:

  • assertiveness: attempts to satisfy your own concerns
  • cooperation: attempts to satisfy the other person’s concerns.

Click on each of the five words in the boxes to find out more about them.

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Figure 3 Five different categories of response to conflict, depending on how much assertion and cooperation is displayed in the conflict.
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Taking a more positive attitude into negotiation; creating ‘space’ for disagreement to stimulate dialogue is neatly suggested by the following quote, adapted from the historian and philosopher Theodore Zeldin (1998):

The kind of conversation I like is one in which we are both prepared to emerge as slightly different people.

If all parties in a discussion adopt this approach – if they collaborate – the range of possible outcomes considered is vastly increased beyond the two outcomes of ‘my way’ and ‘your way’.

Even if one of the parties ends up accepting the idea proposed by their ‘opponent’, in challenging that idea they are helping to test and develop it – and in an important sense, producing something new. Through collaboration they jointly find a way of doing things that has stood up to a challenge and found to be strong. Before the collaboration we only had a way of doing things that one party thought would not stand up to scrutiny.

Take home: whilst we must recognise conflict can be a devastating issue in the workplace, we suggest managers try to understand the positive effects controlled conflict can have on teams. The source of conflict is often an initial difference in perspective between team members (do it my way, or do it your way). Given time and better dialogue between team members, an emergent third-way (our way) can flourish. Compromise may be the best way to keep the peace within the team; but true collaboration transcends ‘mere’ compromise creating something that is made and ‘owned’ in partnership. In this section we’ve tried to provoke you beyond ‘mere’ compromise.


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