Encouraging Healthy Conflict in High Performance Teams

Encouraging Healthy Conflict in High Performance Teams

In a high-performing team, ‘healthy conflict’ may sound like a paradox, but it’s far from it. Ask yourself: what happens when you don’t have conflict on a team? There are many risks; stagnation of creativity, groupthink, simmering tension and missed opportunities for growth.


Further, when conflict arises, it demonstrates that your people care about what’s happening. People can become disinterested and disengaged if they have a perception that their work has no purpose. So, it comes down to how you encourage constructive conflict to flourish on your team.


Conflict is the second competency that contributes to creating a high-performing team, so let’s first look at how we do and don’t want this to show up

Understanding Sources of Conflict – The SCARF Model

Conflict happens, but understanding its sources can make the journey of transforming toxic conflict into constructive conflict a lot easier. One framework that offers valuable insights into these sources of conflict is David Rock’s SCARF model. Developed by neuroscientist David Rock, the SCARF model identifies five key domains—Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness, and Fairness. These domains influence human behaviour and can trigger responses akin to threat (‘avoid’) or reward (‘approach’) in social interactions. Feeling threatened blocks our creativity, reduces our ability to solve problems, and makes it harder for us to communicate and collaborate with others – not a conducive environment to healthy conflict.

Promoting Healthy Conflict

  • Establish psychological safety: Create an environment where team members feel safe expressing dissenting opinions, challenging assumptions, and taking risks without fear of judgement or reprisal.
  • Encourage diverse perspectives: Reinforce diversity of thought, background, and experience within the team, recognising that varied perspectives can lead to more robust decision-making and innovative solutions.
  • Empower conflict resolution skills: Instil a culture where team members are empowered to address conflicts directly and find resolutions independently, avoiding the unnecessary involvement of third parties, known as conflict triangulation.
  • Model conflict resolution skills: Lead by example by demonstrating effective conflict resolution strategies, such as compromise, collaboration, and empathy. Encourage team members to adopt these skills in their interactions with one another. If possible, provide training and resources.
  • Reserve a chair for the devil’s advocate: If you’re struggling to get your team to engage in healthy conflict, rotate a ‘devil’s advocate’ for each meeting. This individual’s responsibility is to present a challenging viewpoint, stimulating debate and testing the strength of proposed ideas. This is a fun way to introduce the concept and get the team comfortable with constructive disagreement.
  • Celebrate momentum: When positive outcomes are achieved from healthy conflict, reinforce the benefits.


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  • Lencioni, P. M. (2002). The five dysfunctions of a team. Jossey-Bass.
  • Rock, D. (2008). SCARF: A brain-based model for collaborating with and influencing others. NeuroLeadership Journal, 1(1).


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