There's Conflict On My Team, and I'm Glad!

Yaneke Wright-Lewis
September 9, 2022

More often than not, the word 'conflict' evokes fear, and it is met with much scorn and resistance. Wars are fought and lives are lost because of that one word. Merriam-Webster defines 'conflict' as 'competitive or opposing action of incompatibles; or an antagonistic state or action as of divergent ideas, interests, or persons.' It seems like we had better avoid conflict at all costs, right?

American professor of educational psychology, Bruce Tuckman, disagreed. He observed from studying 50 reports on team development that conflict was a regular part of every team. 

In the Buckman Team Stages Model, conflict constantly develops in a team after the first orientation stage (also dubbed 'forming'). Calling the second stage of conflict 'storming', Tuckman recognized it as a necessary stage in a team's development. 

Yes! Teams need time to grow. A team doesn't just happen. Every team has to grow into what it ought to be - a focused, functional and fruitful unit.

Understanding Your Team as a Living Organism

You can almost consider a team to be a living thing. Every team must be allowed to grow, just as living things do.  

But the growth of any group that intends to work together needs conflict. Workplace conflicts can result in healthy debates, good competition, and respectful disagreements. A workplace environment like this will encourage a few things to happen:

  • Workers will experience increased creativity
  • Team members will have more robust ideas 
  • Employees will feel more engaged 
  • Everyone will have refreshed viewpoints
  • Colleagues will feel authentic relationships instead of fake bonding

Conflict can help a business grow. Some business coaches even warn that avoiding conflict in a company could be a mistake: doing so can stifle the growth and maturity of a team.

Functional Versus Dysfunctional Conflict

So does that mean all workplace conflict is healthy? The answer is no.  There is a dysfunctional conflict that typically involves personal attacks. It is mainly caused by emotional and behavioral problems that have nothing to do with the organizational issue at hand.

One example of dysfunctional conflict is if a manager verbally threatens his employees in an attempt to achieve his agenda. This kind of conflict produces several adverse outcomes:

  1. It erodes communication and performance within a group.
  2. It leads to greater levels of stress and tension.
  3. Employee absenteeism is more likely.
  4. There can be decreased production.
  5. Higher rates of employee turnover are likely.

On the other hand, in functional conflict, there are honest disagreements about work decisions.  A functional conflict is characterized by constructive criticism and empathy rather than personal attacks, deception, and threats. There is always a level of positivity and sensitivity towards others. 

Although conflict may not feel comfortable, it does not always have to be viewed as a negative occurrence. It is a natural human experience that we should not avoid. Instead, we can manage conflict healthily and seek God's help to navigate it wisely.


Avoiding Team Conflict Can Be A Grave Mistake: Four Strategies For Healthy Team Conflict

Functional vs. Dysfunctional Conflict

Teamwork Theory

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