Tag Archives: conflict

Inclusion: diversity from a strategic perspective to get to high performing teams

InclusionIs diversity in a team really contributing to your results? Or is your team composed out of differing individuals for the sake of statistics. Get a high performing team by thinking about the composition of the different profiles. They named it inclusion and it will lead to challenging solutions, vibrant discussions and high performing teams. Read further to see what’s the difference between diversity and inclusion.

Today we had an interesting discussion about the difference between diversity and inclusion. If you don’t know the latter yet, don’t worry: we’ll explain it shortly and I’m convinced that you’ll hear it more in the coming year as it’s becoming a buzz word.

The fact that diversity is needed at the work floor (and anywhere else) is probably not so surprising to you. But diversity only looks at the numbers and combination of different individuals. You probably understand that combining different individuals can lead to sparks at the work floor, both in a good and less good way. Much diversity on the work floor does not guarantee a high performing organization.

Inclusion goes one step further though. As with diversity you would combine an unplanned mixed of individuals, inclusion looks at it from a strategic point of view: which combination of different profiles do you need in your team to be successful? For diversity to be successful, the leader must team carefully when composing his/her team.

Next to making a team high performing, inclusion is also about respecting each other as a person. A different person with underlying beliefs and values that might seem strange to us, but which are an enrichment to the team.

Leaders that are aware and self-conscious of the need for a diverse team, probably have been using inclusion before by thoroughly combining different profiles via screenings like Myers-Brigss Type Indicator (MBTI)the Big 5 personality traits, Belbin team roles, etc.

According to “Beyonders”, leading a diverse team can make an average leader insecure. Having this specific mix of individuals implies a guarantee for healthy conflicts and (more) heated discussions. In a successful team, composed via inclusion, it will be harder to get to consensus which results in more diverse solutions and paths to solutions to be found.

Managing and participating in an inclusive team can require more of your energy. It’s always easier if everybody agrees with you and you don’t have to convince others and fight for your solutions.

The b

Is your team inclusive?

How do you know that your team is composed inclusive? Take these small tests to see for yourself:

  • Outsiders look strange at your team having a discussion and think you’re having an argument, while the discussion seems everyday normal to you (there’s no fight going on).
  • You have the feeling that you complement each other.
  • Do a short test and ask for 3 solutions to a stated problem. Take a look at the different answers you got from the team.
  • Ask your leader why you in particular were selected for the team.

Thanks to my colleague Isabelle for making the difference clear to me and Katleen Destobbeleir of Vlerick Business School for inspiring Isabelle!

Additional information

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Act a fool at work

A jester in the middle ages

A jester in the middle ages

The first of April, or April Fools’ Day, is a yearly event where most people are wary the whole day. Jokers all over the community are trying to pull a joke on you.

In the middle ages it was common for a king to have a jester, a fool, in his counsel. Because of the hard times, it was not so strange to have a counsel full of yay-sayers. Who would dare to oppose to what the king was saying? Your head could be at stake (literally). To overcome this problem the king introduced the jester at his counsel. The fool could say or do what he want. He didn’t get any punishment for bashing on the ideas of the group or king. His job was to make all ideas ridiculous so the members of the counsel could take a look at them from another perspective.

We can link this to modern concepts in the corporate world.


An important part in coaching is giving honest feedback about facts. If you’re not able to give honest feedback to the coachee, he will not be aware of his blind spots and could make bad decisions. While in other industries like eg. sports coaching is more common, in the corporate world coaching is still considered only needed when “one’s in trouble”. Additionally, coaching is not only for the king, the CEO, applicable, but can be a useful instrument at all levels in the organisation.

Do you have a coach already? Who is giving you honest feedback and helping you discover your blind spots?

More on coaching:


If you would remove the fear element from the meeting, the counsel full of yay-sayers resembles at lot the modern principle of groupthink. When equal minded groups work together they have the tendency to agree on the same and come to the same conclusions and decisions. There’s no healthy debate nor discussions and group think might even lead to ignoring important details.

A classroom example of groupthink is the scenario which took place during the attack on Pearl Harbor. There were many early warning signals that an attack from the Japanese was pending, but because of groupthink one sought for confirmation of positive signals, that is “all is save” (more information here). Symptoms of groupthink which played a role in the attack on Pearl Harbor were, amongst others, the illusion of invulnerability, discarding information from outsiders and the illusion of unanimity.

Do you have a fool in your meetings? Or maybe you are the fool? (pun intended)


In the TED presentation “Dare to disagree“, Margaret Heffernan discusses the need of someone trying to proof your wrong. In a medical research project the scientist had one assistant whose only role was to prove the scientist wrong. The advantage of this was that your ideas get challenged and you don’t stop at might what have looked like the first success.

More on healthy conflict:

Additional reading

Archetypes, Blind Spots and Court Jesters

What to Ask the Person in the Mirror: Critical Questions for Becoming a More Effective Leader and Reaching Your Potential

Overcoming groupthink

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Dare to disagree

Last week I was facilitating a MBTI team building exercise at a management offsite.
Before we started with the exercise, the GM showed a short video of Margaret Heffernan giving a presentation for TED on conflict.

We already had a blog entry about conflict, but when we link the theory to MBTI profiles, we can learn more.

The story Margaret tells is the one of a researcher investigating early child deaths.
The researcher works not alone, but has a sparring partner. A position solely created to prove here… wrong.
Indeed, as a researcher the scientist needed to be challenged in every possible way to take up the difficult task of statistical analysis of all possibilities.

Only with the help of healthy conflict, the researcher could be challenged into finding the right reason (remark: it proved to be X-rays on pregnant women).



What’s the link with MBTI?

Humans tend to meet and gather around people who are like them. Equal minded.
Close your eyes and think of yourself for a moment. With who do you have the best connection? With which colleagues are you talking at each reception, every time again? Great minds think alike, don’t they?

If you want to grow as a person, as a team or even as an organization, you’ll have to overcome this pitfall.
Hanging around the same people over and over again will guarantee the most comfort, but will not put you in a position where you have to go into discussion, defend your view-point, your opinion, … Prove your point.

Luckily, there’s help: there’s nothing so easy as finding your exact opposite as with MBTI profiles.
Once you know yours and the one of your colleagues, you know which colleagues think alike and which other ones will guarantee you to have a challenge.
Probably it won’t be such a great eye opener, but more an aha-erlebnis. To quote the GM: “Aha, that’s why life is so stressful when working with others”.


Some tips for you to take up the challenge:

  • Go team up with that colleague where it clashes with sometimes.
  • Find a different profile to present your findings and results to.
  • Try to understand why the other is thinking that way.
  • Ask advice from people with different profiles. For example, an SJ will look for details & order, an NP will look for story lines, threads and the bigger pictures.

Additional reading


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Get into conflict

“Wow, that was a pretty hard discussion”, i said to the team lead.

“How do you mean?”, she replied.

“Well, the discussion between the other team lead and you. The sparks flew off.”

“No, not at all,” she said, “it’s a normal debate. After the meeting we’re back to normal, there are no hard feelings left.”

It puzzled me and only after a few years, i finally know what she meant.

Engaging in passionate debates, having tough discussions and committing to something you first didn’t agree too. These are all signs of a healthy team. Getting the climate suited for healthy conflict and intimate debate is only possible when team members trust each other. When team members trust each other, they will fully engage. They will share their honest opinions and there is no politics involved.

It is possible that their wants are not implemented, but they’re sure the others listened to their opinion and arguments, and finally the group came to the conclusion not to opt for them. After the meeting there are no hard feelings, there’s no talk behind the scenes, there are no opinions not expressed. A team that comes to a agreement this way, will have team members that commit to the decision. Also if the decision is not what they hoped for, but they know the group heard all arguments, considered them and made the best choice.

It’s only possible when your team is working at a certain maturity. According to the “5 dysfunctions of a team” book of Patrick Lencioni the only thing you need for this is trust and open communication. And conflict of course.

A team that has healthy conflict will make more effective decisions and outperform other teams in the long run.

Signs of teams not having healthy conflict

  • No questions are asked, no opinions are given.
  • Real opinions are expressed outside of the meeting room.
  • Sub-teams form.
  • Politics and turf wars rule.
  • Decisions are not committed too.

How to stimulate conflict?

It’s maybe a strange title, but if healthy conflict can be so constructive and effective, how can we stimulate it our organization?

  • Train management and the work floor on giving feedback.
  • Focus on opinions, not people.
  • As a team lead, allow discussion. Only intervene when things get out of hand or too personal.
  • Walk the talk as team lead: give the example to your team and allow criticism, also on your behalf.
  • Repeat the decisions at the end of the meeting. Does everybody agree on them? If not, the discussion must be reopened.

Additional reading

Margaret Heffernan on conflict: http://www.ted.com/talks/margaret_heffernan_dare_to_disagree.html

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