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Harv Bus Rev. 1997 Jul-Aug;75(4):77-85.

How management teams can have a good fight.

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Stanford University, CA, USA.


Top-level managers know that conflict over issues is natural and even necessary. Management teams that challenge one another's thinking develop a more complete understanding of their choices, create a richer range of options, and make better decisions. But the challenge--familiar to anyone who has ever been part of a management team--is to keep constructive conflict over issues from degenerating into interpersonal conflict. From their research on the interplay of conflict, politics, and speed in the decision--making process of management teams, the authors have distilled a set of six tactics characteristic of high-performing teams: They work with more, rather than less, information. They develop multiple alternatives to enrich debate. The establish common goals. They make an effort to inject humor into the workplace. They maintain a balanced corporate power structure. They resolve issues without forcing a consensus. These tactics work because they keep conflict focused on issues; foster collaborative, rather than competitive, relations among team members; and create a sense of fairness in the decision-making process. Without conflict, groups lose their effectiveness. Managers often become withdrawn and only superficially harmonious. The alternative to conflict is not usually agreement but rather apathy and disengagement, which open the doors to a primary cause of major corporate debacles: groupthink.

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