Nurturing A Culture Of Creative Conflict

I have written about the need for trust within teams and the importance of nurturing a culture that supports its members. That is not to say that the culture of an organization requires conformity and the avoidance of conflict. In fact, without conflict there is no tension or motivation to drive the culture forward. The creative tension that arises from healthy conflict is the energy that can move an organization forward and help to establish a culture of innovation and productivity.

Any organization these days must be ready to adapt to the changing world in which it operates. That means that the leaders must have the courage to look at difficult questions with open minds and open hearts. When an organization is more concerned with conformity and harmony than it is about creatively, when responding to conflicts, it will be limited in its ability to adapt and respond in ways that will ensure success.

Innovation Requires Open Discourse

All organizations, whether they are  for profit, non-profits or government agencies, exist because they do so in the minds of the team members that form the formal hierarchical positions and informal relationships. The culture of the organization is this shared mental model that becomes a framework for the team members on which to base the choices they make.

A culture can be healthy or unhealthy, positive or poisonous, toxic or nurturing. It is not the conflict that is problematic in organizations; it is the suppression of differences that drives conflict underground. Leaders and managers who may not be directly involved in the creative process may still feel a risk that they will pay a price if creative solutions don’t work out. This unspoken fear is the paralysis of analysis and the need to blame or be blamed that spells doom for a culture of creativity and innovation. When team members feel as though everything can be used against them later there is no room for taking risks.

Conflict Must Be Explored For Solutions To Be Discovered

Innovation requires shaking the tree every once in a while and inspecting it. When we get out of the comfort zone, we are much more likely to find an imaginative solution. When there is pain, there is motivation to find solutions that return us to the comfort zone. But we first have to leave it in order to return.

Nurturing a creative culture is a task that requires the attention and belief of teams and leaders at all levels. Holding too tight a grip will do at least as much damage to creativity as allowing too much freedom. There must be a climate of forgiveness and tolerance to speaking out but not one that is afraid to make waves and call out those things that will restrict it.

If the teams are expected to be creative, then the entire organization must value the creativity that arises from conflicts and the solutions that are discovered from them. The right balance of freedom and structure will help to ensure that there is innovation. Suppressing conflict will only make it worse when it does come out. It is up to the leaders to build a culture that nurtures a positive environment to channel the energy into solutions.


Heifetz, Ronald A., and L. Donald Laurie. The Work Of Leadership. December 2001. (accessed September 27, 2014).

Martin, Roger. Two Words That Kill Innovation. 9 December 2014. (accessed December 12, 2014).

Perich-Anderson, Jagoda. Creative Conflict: Generating Innovative Ideas. 2001. (accessed December 12, 2014).

Welch, Nicole. Creating Leadership Trust. 26 November 2014. (accessed December 12, 2014).

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