Conflict Leads to Ideation

Conflict Leads to Ideation by Janet Kendall White

Productive conflict or constructive debate can lead to great ideas. We are seeing examples of how those topical constructive disagreements are not happening in some arenas.

Are they happening for you? In your organizations? Or are people saying things like “we had all the right people in the meeting, but no one was willing to challenge others or the leader, so we agreed to a mediocre idea” or people are having a meeting after the meeting to say what really should have been said in the first place?

I had two different people that would not normally be hesitant to speak up if they disagreed with other opinions recently tell me that they are now hesitant to speak up in certain groups in their respective organizations. They have seen how quickly the conversation by the majority regarding what might be considered some sensitive topics became dysfunctional, shaming versus productive or inviting of different perspectives. Even though the topics may not have directly related to developing strategy or solving problems, the way the group interacted did.  The trickle effect of this will be that without that safe environment to be different, to have a differing opinion on one topic there is a hesitation on other topics.

If people don’t feel comfortable speaking up:

  1. You aren’t getting the best out of your resources
  2. Engagement is not at its fullest
  3. You are wasting some of people’s time
  4. You aren’t getting the best ideas
  5. Ultimately, you will lose people

In Patrick Lencioni’s book, the Five Dysfunctions of a Team, one of the elements of a functional team is engaging in conflict around ideas. To do that, trust must exist so that team members are able to engage in unfiltered, constructive debate of ideas.

In our market research this year we heard from numerous people comments like the earlier quote especially as it relates to virtual or hybrid meetings.  It is harder virtually to engage in the type of dialogue that draws out different opinions, but it can be done, and it is critical for healthy environments and ideation.

In the linked MIT article, it talks about how at their core, all great strategies are arguments. That the process includes constructive debate, iterative visualization, and logical formation. If the constructive debate never occurs, how will you get to the great strategy formation?

In our effective meetings training we teach how to create a supportive environment and some of the tips for those running meetings include:

  • Develop or provide ground rules and the process that will be used that assures full engagement and participation
  • The facilitator of the meeting needs to bring objectivity
  • Design the process in a way that gives the opportunity for all personalities to participate; those who process more internally and those that process by talking more
  • Assure that listening and paraphrasing are occurring not just by the person running the meeting but by others as well
  • Visualize the discussion so that all can see it versus everyone taking their own notes and having different impressions of what actually was agreed to or the work done
  • Utilize a process for rough, not fully formed ideas and “protect” all ideas


For more on how to get great ideas, run effective meetings and lots of tools that work both in person and virtually:

For the kindle edition:

For intact or project teams also a great tool is Everything DiSC Productive Conflict: