Good strategy requires the capacity to be in generative conflict. Strategy is all about choice. It is about saying no, sharpening a position through disagreement, narrowing focus. It requires the will to remain in tension long enough to expose the deepest misalignments, the skill to actually enter into serious disagreement and emerge from it stronger. It requires letting go and facing loss, giving up pieces of oneself and one’s dreams and sometimes even people on one’s team or one’s own place in it, in order to create something healthy and clear and powerful enough to have an impact. Groups cannot arrive at a good strategy if they aren’t able to say no, prioritize, make choices that not everyone will like, and separate what is a relational conflict from a strategic one.
Perhaps the most devastating thing about conflict avoidance is that it is dishonest. Being part of groups is hard — we have tension, we disagree about important things, we’re scared, want to feel seen, seek belonging and meaning, yearn to make a difference. When we pretend this isn’t the case, or don’t devote the necessary time and energy to dealing with it, our groups lose integrity as a whole. Groups that lie to themselves about the tensions that exist also lie to themselves about what is realistic for them to accomplish, lie to themselves about their deadlines and when they’ll start their meetings, lie to themselves about their competence and levels of accountability. They lie to themselves about strategy. And at the end of the day, so much of good strategy is about finding the truth — what is real about the opponent, about us, about the world, about our role, about the best way to move from here to there, about what we will need to change, even if it’s painful, in order to get there. Groups that don’t tell themselves the truth cannot form a winning strategy, and they are unlikely to be healthy and strong enough to actualize it even if they did.
This resonates with me because I have seen the damage that conflict avoidance can do to an organisation. We need to build better organisations. Better means different. Doing things differently requires some conflict.