January 27, 2020 7:00 am Published by

Frequently, I work with teams on Team Health using Patrick Lencioni’s work from the Five Dysfunctions of a Team. One of the most valuable parts of his pyramid is the encouragement of healthy conflict.

The most powerful metaphor I’ve found to describe how a great leader has used healthy conflict for the greater good is a story (which I don’t know is true or not – I do know it illustrates the point well) about John F. Kennedy and the formation of NASA.

I heard it this way: When Kennedy declared we’d send a man to the moon and return him safely; NASA didn’t exist as we know it today. Now, thinking back, this was a bold declaration and not everyone was excited about the idea. Some people, very smart engineers and scientists even thought the idea ludicrous. Others thought it was the most exciting, incredible opportunity suggested. Kennedy listened to both factions. He knew it was a dangerous prospect and had to be done right.

He gathered the two factions and asked the supporters to propose exactly how the USA could deliver on the promise. They devised a plan and shared it with Kennedy. He promptly gathered the doubters and asked them to poke holes in the plan, which they did. The red lined plan was returned to the supporters, who promptly refined the plan and returned the revision to the doubters. This back and forth continued until they were able to confidently support the plan from both sides. Nasa was formed and they delivered on Kennedy’s declaration.

Without the back and forth, the Apollo mission would have failed. As we know, failure was not an option. Conflict brought about the commitment, accountability and promised results. It wouldn’t have happened without trust and the genius to hear all voices. The rest is history.

Do you encourage conflict? If not now, when?

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