Conflict and high performance? Three top tips for leaders

In May, the Governing for Reform in Aged Care Program held its thirteenth webinar, Managing Conflict and Building High Performance. The panel members included Yvette McDonald, Chief People and Customer Officer at Anglicare, and Dr Kristy Zwickert, Clinical Psychologist at KPMG.

We caught up with Kristy following the webinar to understand how boards and executives can build high performing teams and organisations, and how to set yourself up for success so that when conflict (inevitably) arises, you can navigate it with relative ease.

Where did we land you ask? Well, here are three top tips:

1. Go slow to go fast

In a sector that is operating in complexity, and is consistently transforming, if you’re not carving out time to invest in relationships and build trust upfront and early, you’ll end up investing more time and money in tidying up the mess.

Take time to understand the unique contribution of all stakeholders, to ensure expectations of one another are clear, to agree early about how you want to work together as well as what good looks like, and establish a common language around how to raise issues. If you do all this deliberately and intentionally, when crisis hits, you’ll have a solid foundation to work with.

2. Move towards sharing diverse views, and away from personal conflict

Successful leaders create conditions where productive debate can flourish. We know that when we’re constantly in agreement, we see instances of groupthink, which in complex environments is a hinderance to problem solving. Moving toward sharing diverse views (or what research refers to as “opposition”) means focusing on the task at hand. Making an argument based on facts, analysis, data and experience is critical. When we divert away from the task and get personal, conflict ensues.

If you’ve invested time to build relationships and trust early, everyone should feel confident sharing an opposing view.

3. Create space to discuss the undiscussables

Those “undiscussable” matters can often build over time, no matter the level of early investment (or how slow you’ve gone). If left to fester, undiscussables often exacerbate conflict or reduce motivation and commitment. A key way to manage conflict and build high performing organisations is to create a safe and accepting space, where anyone can raise an issue. This doesn’t have to be awkward or uncomfortable, just ask the simple question, “is there anything contentious we haven’t addressed or discussed?”. By modelling curiosity as leaders, you can begin to create safe and trusting spaces where productive debate can flourish.

If you want to hear more from Kristy on this fascinating topic, login to the Online Learning Platform to watch the Program’s Managing Conflict and Building High Performance webinar: Webinar (