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The Upside Of Conflict

Don't shrug off conflict in your IT team as just a sign of poorly matched personalities. Instead, turn office struggles around to create a more productive IT shop.

Whether they involve project priorities or budget allocations, disagreements are bound to happen in any IT shop. Unfortunately, if they're not addressed in a timely and effective manner, conflicts can lead to poor productivity, employee attrition, and lost revenue.

But there can be an upside when IT professionals butt heads: Creativity and innovation often stem from diverging views on how to tackle a particular problem or develop a certain product.

The trick, according to Brian Anderson, chief technology officer at Kansas-based enterprise content management firm Perceptive Software, is figuring out how to harness conflict and turn it into a positive energy that can fuel an IT department.

[ Want your IT team members to take on more initiative? Here's how to encourage them. 4 Ways To Foster Greater Accountability On IT Teams. ]

Here, Anderson shares four tips on how to convert conflict into IT success:

1. Recognize conflict's power to spark an open dialogue. Anderson is the first to admit that his team may "vigorously debate many things." But a little bit of controversy is often a gateway to open discussion and more clearly defined goals. "For instance, we might at first bump heads over whether one solution works better than another," says Anderson. "But in the end, we try to understand all the factors and make informed and rational decisions. We have found that open discourse and clear goals are key."

2. Let conflict weed out the unwanted. Sure, colleagues have been known to verbally joust, but outright arguing and hostility will demonstrate to an IT leader who is and isn't right for the organization. It's a process of natural selection that simply wouldn't be possible without the odd IT kerfuffle. "In our culture, those bent on conflict just don't last," says Anderson. "We find our collaborative approach not only results in better products and solutions, it also makes coming to work a lot more fun."

3. Use conflict as a marker for positive change. Many IT leaders view extinguishing internal conflicts as a way to achieve peace among disparate personalities. But for Anderson, identifying and then minimizing conflict is a unique opportunity to uncover an IT team's hidden potential. "Conflict can be detrimental to productivity in any setting," warns Anderson. "Conflict dampens creativity and innovation. If you come to work expecting a fight, you aren't in the place you need to be to create products and solutions that help customers." In other words, find the greatest sources of conflict, eliminate them, and watch your IT team's productivity increase.

4. Let conflict shape your culture. Screaming matches and blame games don't exactly lend themselves to a collaborative IT work environment. However, by keeping conflicts to a minimum and treating them as a litmus test for a company's corporate culture, Anderson says IT leaders stand a far better chance of creating "a peaceful environment, where people get up in the morning and actually want to come to work."

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