This is the second in a series of posts around DevOps culture and lessons learned from Patrick Lencioni’s leadership book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team - A Leadership Fable.
The first post, 5 Dysfunctions of a DevOps Team: Absence of Trust, explored how trust is the underpinning of adapting your team’s culture to transform for the DevOps movement. Without trust your DevOps team has little chance for authentic communication and collaboration. Now I would like to explore the second dysfunction of a team - fear of conflict.
"The second dysfunction is a fear of conflict among team members. All great relationships require productive conflict in order to grow. Unfortunately, conflict is considered taboo in many situations, especially at work. And the higher you go up the management chain, the more you find people spending inordinate amounts of time and energy trying to avoid the kind of passionate debates that are essential to any great team."
Teams that trust one another are not afraid to engage in passionate dialogue around issues and decisions that are key to the organization's success. The sole purpose of engaging in productive conflict on a DevOps team is to produce the best possible solution in the shortest amount of time. Teams that demonstrate this sort of teamwork typically discuss and resolve issues more quickly and completely than others, and they emerge from heated debates with no residual feelings or collateral damage, but with an eagerness and readiness to take on the next important issue.
Take a moment, close your eyes, and play back your last change authorization board (CAB) meeting, sprint review or daily stand up. Were there any tensions, debates or disagreements on important issues and how were those handled? Were they dealt with head-on or avoided? If you did not retreat from healthy debate and the conversation was done in a productive manner then kudos to all of you. If that wasn’t the case, however, then how can your DevOps team begin to put the critical topics on the table for discussion without wasting time and turning a negative into a positive? Here are a couple ideas I’ve seen work in teams that want to cut through the BS and make conflict more common and productive:
Here’s the thing - leadership and conflict go hand-in-hand. Leadership is a full-contact sport, and if you cannot or will not address conflict in a healthy, productive fashion, you should not be in a leadership role. Don’t fear conflict; embrace it – it’s your job. While you can try and avoid conflict (bad idea), you cannot escape conflict. The fact of the matter is conflict in the workplace is unavoidable. It will find you whether you look for it or not. The ability to recognize conflict, understand the nature of conflict, and to be able to bring swift and just resolution to conflict will serve you well as a leader and help your DevOps movement be successful and productive for all.