Julia Langkraehr’s Blog

How can you promote healthy conflict in your business?

Do you remember the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes, by Hans Christian Andersen? When all his courtiers are too afraid to tell him that he’s naked for fear of being labelled stupid?

Ever feel that sometimes your team might be trying to tell you something but can’t?

This is the result of a culture where a team is afraid to be open and honest, and tell their colleagues and leaders (like you) the truth. Even if the truth might hurt.

A lack of openness and honesty gets to the heart of disfunction in companies – and one of the root causes is avoidance of conflict.

Healthy conflict

Healthy conflict is a good thing when orchestrated in the right way and where there is no negative consequence to sharing an opinion or a view.

However, founders who have taken all the risk, and who own all the responsibility can be intimidating figures in a leadership team dynamic, if something goes wrong.  Founders crave certainty (predicting the future) and by the nature of the beast, need to feel like there is a semblance of order and control.

Think about the characteristic of founders and entrepreneurs.

Entrepreneurs often want to run fast – faster than those who surround them. The risk is that by moving so quickly you don’t get alignment from your partners, your senior leadership team and their rest of the organisation.

I have seen and experienced diversity of culture on my journey to implement EOS in over 50 businesses. I have seen some companies where a culture has developed – and even flourished – of personality clashes or toxic politics.

That is not the ‘healthy conflict’ I would promote as part of the EOS process. This uses tools and techniques to identify, discuss and resolve issues in an open and honest environment.

Infographic: Identify, Discuss, Solve

Other companies  have the “terrorist” or ‘’maverick’’ character in their midst, who performs well but doesn’t match the company values, thus negatively impacting on the morale and the culture of the company. Sometimes we can find ourselves trying to justify that performance compensates somehow for the cultural impact.

This is ultimately doing more damage than good and is what in EOS we call ‘wrong person in the right seat’.

Leaders can’t blame their staff if there’s an unhealthy culture. In America there is a saying that “a fish stinks from the head down.”

How open and honest works within EOS 

What businesses need to do is develop a culture where there is team trust, and people are able to be open and honest. That begins by the example we set as leaders, owners and entrepreneurs.

Teams which have built trust are able to have healthy discussions, where they challenge assumptions, have productive debates, are free to share what they think and say what needs to be said when it needs to be said.

If teams are able to do this, they are far more likely to come up with the best solution to the issues preventing progress, and move forward aligned and unified.

While it is very easy to say that you want to encourage an open and honest culture, it is not so easy to do.

Watch: How to create a culture in your business 

However, in EOS, open and honest is more than simply an act or behaviour, it is a tool which teams can use.

“Open” is ensuring you are open to new ideas, open to new approaches, open to changes the status quo: examples are being open to automation or open to outsourcing.

“Honest” is being prepared to say what’s in your head, sharing your perspective, your fears, your concerns, your hesitancy, and also sharing your dream. It’s both positive and negative: when people don’t know what team members are thinking, they imagine what they’re thinking instead and that can lead to miscommunications and mis-alignment.

While we are implementing EOS, we work first to get the leadership team using the concept of “open and honest”, as by doing this they set the culture, so this then filters down to the rest of the organisation.

When you foster an open and honest environment, and you get a team really listening to each other and understanding each other’s perspectives, it is incredibly powerful.

To find out more about how the Entrepreneurial Operating System can improve your business culture and promote healthy conflict, contact us via the website, or call 07795 667480.