City and roadways aerial view on a sunny day

I have spent a lot of time with leadership teams in government organisations both working in them and coaching them.  This ranges from central government, state and local government organisations.

One of the most common areas that they tend to struggle with is positive conflict.  That is, the ability to speak openly, candidly without fear or favour in the best interests of the organisation.  It is the optimum middle ground between polite conversation and mean spirited personal attacks.  It separates effective leadership teams from average ones.

It is a critical issue for government leadership teams.  Gone are the days of being able to avoid these difficult conversations.  Government organisations are challenged to do more with less, work with private sector organisations and be commercially astute.  One of the critical skills to be able to do this is the art of positive conflict.

To learn this skill, government leaders need to prepare to challenge each other.  They need to be able to separate the issue from the person, as well as be able to structure discussion, arguments, and debates in a constructive manner.  They also need to understand the principles of care and candour.  That is, they can give feedback and work through conflict with others because they care for their colleagues and they know that they deserve candour in everything that is undertaken and discussed.

This development then needs to extend to understanding their team members, what information they trust and how to approach challenges and problems together understanding mutual expectations and outcomes.  This understanding is critical for positive conflict to thrive in a leadership team.

Positive conflict is a great way to health check your leadership team and find out where they are at.  Is your team polite or do they embrace positive conflict?  Are you rewarding obedient child behaviour or welcoming behaviour that challenges the status quo?  Is there enough trust in the team to have the tough conversations needed?  These are some great questions to ask your leadership team that will assist in driving towards a high performance culture.