Team Conflict Is Necessary For Innovation

There is a role for conflict between members of a team that makes it a vital element. It provides the dynamic energy that is the engine of creation. It may not be desired as a dominant feature of your team but like so many things, there are times for conflict that will give your project momentum and a successful outcome. In the initial establishment, there must be conflict. Throughout the rest of the work cycle, the conflict can provide the shakeup that drives real change and innovation.

Forming Storming And Norming

Tuckman developed the first successful model of team behavior more than fifty years ago. With only a minor revision in the 1970s it has remained the clearest model of how teams develop throughout the cycle of a project. The outline of this sequence of stages is forming, storming, norming, performing and adjourning.

As teams evolve through the stages in the Tuckman model, they may appear unchanged externally but there may be significant changes in team member attitudes toward each other and conflict. In the forming stage of first encounter and introduction the incentive is to avoid conflict and to appear agreeable. As members settle, there is a sort of musical chairs of positioning within the group, this is the storming stage, where conflict and tension begin to manifest.

Conforming Is Not A Stage

Too much willingness to conform and accommodate can lead to a mindset that prevents innovation and supports groupthink. When teams are together there is bound to be some conflict. It is the ability to express it and work it out that helps a team to get past it. Conformity and suffering in silence are recipes for resentment and grudges that lead to poor team performance and failure.

Leaders must recognize the need for conflict as the team works through the storming stage and settles into the form that will enable them to perform. The real value of the storming phase will become clear as the team settles into focus on its assigned tasks.

Storming For Innovation

There is also room for conflict in later stages of teamwork because innovation only arises when teams question assumptions. It is by breaking away from the status quo that new ideas and innovation emerge. Innovation will lead directly to conflicts within even the most accommodating teams. It is here that speaking your mind must be a safe option. Once the conflict has manifested it is in the path to resolution that the innovations will be found.

So, it is up to the leader of the team to manage conflicts to ensure that the stress of conflict is channeled in positive ways. By allowing team members a place where they can safely express opinions and state their arguments, leaders help to facilitate the resolutions to the conflicts that become pathways to innovation. The right sort of conflict and the solutions that it brings out will provide a source for innovation that will drive the team toward its goal.


Foster, Colm, and Evans, Henry. Why You Should Encourage Conflict. 11 April 2014. (accessed December 7, 2014).

Kelly, Des, Vijay Patel, and Claire Smart. “Star Performers.” Community Care, no. 1460 (February 2003): 40-42.

Northouse, Peter G. Leadership Theory and Practice. Fourth Edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2007.


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