Disagreements within leadership teams about ‘what good looks like’ are a part and parcel of working life. Approached with the right collective attitude, they are an opportunity to reflect, debate and become more effective as a team. However, when intractable difficulties appear where there is little willingness to compromise, we have to look deeper. Differences in fundamental beliefs about how the organisation should function are likely at play. Often, these beliefs will be informed by even more fundamental beliefs about human nature and the way the world works.
Unpacking disagreements within leadership teams
For example, a belief that ruthless competition amongst team members drives performance better than collaborative effort, will lead to very different management approaches. Those who insist on employees ‘coming into the office’ versus adopting flexible working will similarly have certain ideas about performance. The working environment each seeks to create is thus a product of prior expectations about how people will behave. Such expectations are in turn founded on beliefs about human trustworthiness, motivation and creativity under different conditions.
And, these beliefs may be recognised or hidden. Some will be able to articulate exactly why they opt for a certain approach. This clarity can allow others to challenge and discuss. Trickier are unconsciously held beliefs that result in leaders taking dogmatic positions. Time may settle these battles between beliefs, as it did the ideological struggle between Soviet Central Planning and the distributed intelligence of the Market. Different nations adopted different systems and the results played out over a few decades.
Similarly, the effectiveness of different workplace approaches may become more (or less) obvious over time. Different teams will approach things differently and the results seen by all. Yet, even such experiments cannot happen if the leadership team is stuck at an impasse — and they aren’t clear as to why the impasse exists! The first step in reaching any kind of resolution is understanding THAT differences in fundamental beliefs are at play.
Leaving may solve nothing
Intractable conflicts often result in individuals leaving leadership teams. Yet, this may only be to rejoin another team and play out a similar drama because they have not understood the root cause of the original conflict. Failing to understand their own beliefs, they are unable to find the right environment to properly try their ideas. If the departing individual enters an organisational culture that embodies entrenched beliefs very different to their own, the result will once again be intractable conflict.
People often talk about ‘values’, but behind values are deeper beliefs about human nature, how the world works and ultimately about what is possible. To make sense of and break through intractable disagreements within leadership teams, we must work at the level of fundamental beliefs. By surfacing these deeper beliefs, you automatically create greater choice.
Harsha is a 1:1 coach and independent thinker based in London. He empowers people to find more clarity, confidence and focus in their lives — to cut through the noise, in a world so full of it. Harsha’s new book, Machine Ego: Tragedy of the Modern Mind, is now available in paperback and Kindle through Amazon.