The five-minute management idea: disagreements as a route to new ideas

16 March 2018 -

Conflict at workA weekly shot of new thinking for business leaders: clashes with colleagues can boost creativity, recent research suggests

Elizabeth Oliver

Workplace conflict: messy and detrimental – or is it? According to research from the University of Exeter, companies should encourage disagreements between colleagues, as this helps to generate bold ideas.

As part of the research, Human Resource Management Lecturer, Dr Graham Perkins, observed and interviewed staff from ten small and medium-sized companies in the South West of England. Here, we reveal its key findings.

Strong bonds between colleagues is key

In order for disagreements to be productive, rather than destructive, managers need to build positive relationships between colleagues. The research revealed that if workers understand their own - and their colleagues’ - strengths and weaknesses, they can share and critique ideas more effectively.

“This is about creating networks which are stronger than people just politely getting on with each other,” Perkins explains, “when people are frightened of getting things wrong they are less likely to put forward bold, new ideas.”

How to manage clashes effectively

According to the research, managers should encourage ‘dynamic tension’ between co-workers. As daunting as this may seem, Perkins says that managers need to ensure that conflict is not personal, but open and respectful.

Consider setting out guidelines for considerate disagreement, and emphasise the shared aims of everyone involved. This way, Perkins adds, the creative process can be “somewhat messy, with the best ideas emerging through free-wheeling communication.” Like other more controversial strategies, such as radical honesty, it is important to consider the context of the situation, and the different personalities in the room.

Disagreement can be positive, as long as it is managed in the right way,” Perkins explains, “it is important for [colleagues] to be able to suggest new ways of working.”

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