How to avoid conflicts with your team (video transcript)

So do I have a story for you.

We have got to stop talking about how team players have to pull in the same direction. This is not the picture you were expecting, is it?

Many years ago now, our little family of four went camping up north. It was a beautiful weekend. The tent was a little small. When a box on a tent says four people, don’t believe it. Lies, lies, lies, lies. More like, two people who really like each other, right?

So we’re with the kids. We’re good parents, so we sleep on the outside, so the bears don’t get the kids. That was when they were way younger. Now we’d be like, “fend for yourselves, pfft, you’ll be fine“.

Okay, and what do we hear on the radio? There’s a torrential storm coming – like, biblical. Here it comes. We have this shotty little rain fly and we’re on the edges. This is not a recipe for success.

So we do what any self-respecting Canadian family would do. We hightail it to Canadian Tire, looking for a tarp so big that it will cover the tent, the picnic table, the campfire, the car. Heck, if we could’ve found one that would’ve got all the way to the bathroom, I would’ve bought it.

But when we get there, nada.

There’s one tarp. It’s already been opened and returned. Not even folded nicely. I’m like… “But it’s all we’ve got. Okay, we’ll take it”. We take it back to the campsite. And we have four people: me, my husband, our daughter who was nine, our daughter who was five. We have to spread this tarp out as big as we can possibly make it and get it centered right over the tent to provide at least some protection.

I have a very important question. We were a team, but were we all pulling in the same direction on those ropes?

No. ♪ Ah ♪

There is a metaphor where a team does not have to be pulling in the same direction. But you know what? My family keeps giving. They keep giving with this story because my husband decides this is the moment to show his manhood. And he is going to pull on his rope so hard that our five-year-old goes flying into what is now a mud puddle.


That happens on your team too, doesn’t it? Somebody, because they need to show you how fantastic they are, or because they’re from a function in the organization that thinks their rope is stronger than everybody else’s, comes in and pulls just a little too forcefully.

When that happens, the whole thing gets pulled off target, the decision that gets made is not the best decision… And sometimes somebody gets hurt.

But my family keeps on giving because our nine-year-old, at some point, gets totally fed up with this. Like, “No, I don’t think we’re quite centered. I’m so done”. She rolls her eyes and exits stage left, letting go of the rope, while the other three of us are pulling at full strength on the other three ropes.

What happens? I can tell you.

The whole corner of the tarp flies up, leaving the corner of the tent, my corner of the tent, getting drenched, left completely exposed.

And that happens in your organization too. Somebody – they’re usually are a quieter voice, a bit of an introvert – they let go, and you’re left exposed.

So we now use this very ridiculous story to work with teams, and I want you to use it with your team. Here’s what you do.

You draw on the flip chart a tarp and you put on it the number of ropes for the roles on your team. And for each role on the team, you answer three questions.

Question number one: What is the unique value that that role brings to our team? Think, what’s their expertise? What are they paying attention to that no one else is paying attention to? What do they bring?

Question number two: What stakeholder group are they representing? Think, what perspective do they need to advocate for? Sometimes a rope might be getting pulled on too forcefully because the one pulling is just paying attention to a different stakeholder than you are.

Question number three: What is the tension that they are obliged to put on your discussions? Think, not what might they say, but what is the tension? What is the conflict? They are obliged in their role, in doing their job well, in earning their paycheck. What is the conflict they are obliged to have?

When you do this with your team, you’ll be amazed at the results. People will say fascinating things like, “Oh, I just always thought you were a jerk. Now, I see you’re just doing your job. Wow.” That is a direct quote from a session I did in Atlanta in April.

It is amazing when people start to see that conflict is not the antithesis of teamwork. It’s the freaking purpose of teamwork, people!

More on this

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Productive Versus Unproductive Conflict Resolution

The Steps to Resolve a Conflict at Work