Good Conflict unearths all possible scenarios and the best solutions
Written for Progressive Dairy and originally published June 2023.
High-functioning family businesses need good conflict just as much as they need the right protocols for production.
“I don’t see it that way at all! I don’t think you are seeing everything,” a key employee emphatically exclaimed to one of the owners. Several long seconds passed before the owner quietly asked, “OK, how do you see it, and how did you come to your view?’
The setting was a strategic planning retreat I was facilitating. This group included two owners and several key employees on the leadership team. I have forgotten the topic, but I’ll not soon forget the maturity with which this team dealt with their issues. Over several days, there were many tough decisions, but through good conflict and debate, the best solutions were unearthed. Not only that, but everyone was on board because they were part of finding the solutions.
This is an excellent example of how good conflict leads to impressive results. Over several years, this farm has created opportunities for themselves and their employees because they don’t get bogged down in the drama of conflict. They recently bought out their neighbors and expanded their farm by 30% in one year!
Over several years these neighbors couldn’t make timely decisions because they spent too much time in endless meetings, rehashing past decisions and having backchannel meetings where everyone wasn’t involved. They were excellent producers, but since they got bogged down in conflict, they couldn’t build a consensus around a strategy and were forced to sell.
One might think these neighbors were somehow lacking in moral character. On the contrary, these neighbors have good families, are grounded in their faith, and are pillars of their community. They are wonderful people and are good at many things, except conflict.
Conflict has gotten a bad rap. Maybe it’s because we don’t see many instances of good conflict. Instead, we see conflict when actions turn ugly, when it gets personal, when words are hastily spoken, or grudges are held.
Conflict at this level is destructive. But what happens when conflict isn’t avoided or left until it boils over? What does good conflict even look like?
Good conflict is Collaborative.
I have given presentations and trained on conflict across the USA and Canada, and the initial reaction to the topic is almost always negative. When we survey teams and family members, avoiding conflict is often the preferred way of dealing with tough issues.
Yet the basic mindset of the farmers at the beginning of this article is vastly different. They view conflict as good and necessary. They have also honed the skill of collaboration within conflict.
Resolving conflict with a collaborative vs. a win/lose mindset is key.
The best outcomes arrive through a collaborative process of sorting out facts, opinions, and ideas. It’s powerful when the mindset shifts from everyone trying to get what they want to everyone wanting what’s best for the business.
The mindset shift of collaborative conflict is a skill nearly everyone can learn. Yes, it takes time, and it probably isn’t as exciting as working on increasing production. But your farm will have less stress, the family dynamics will improve, and you’ll be aligned around a common strategy. You’ll be ready for the opportunity to expand your herd when a neighbor knocks on your door wanting to sell.