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Competing Goals Are the Source of Many Group Conflicts
Members of a Team, Directors on a Board, and Leaders of an Enterprise are often at odds with one another. They find it hard to agree and get along, often thinking that others hold a very different perspective or view than they do.
That is sometimes the case, but it is far more likely something else is at play. Members of any group will engage in conflict when they have competing end-state goals or purposes for any discussion.
All too often it is not clear what agendas and goals members of the group hold. When members of any group are not after the same thing or disagree about the purpose of the discussion, they talk past each other. Reaching consensus on any topic becomes nearly impossible.
Differences in urgency, speed of decision-making, risk tolerance, and subject-matter expertise may also get in the way of the group discussion and dynamic when members implicitly disagree about the end-state goal or discussion purpose. Respect and appreciation for each other often break down.
People with competing goals can’t fathom why others say or do the things they do. After several discussions, group members draw negative conclusions about why others don’t seem to “get it,” often believing they are lazy, unintelligent, or highly subversive.
If you have ever been in a group or on a team where seemingly rational people draw extreme views about others with whom they disagree, the odds are that competing end-state goals are to blame.
Around any important topic or decision, especially those discussed by group members with strong opinions or deep expertise, it is always wise to argue through and agree to the end-state goal and discussion purpose before any topic is engaged. Taking for granted that everyone has the same end-state goal is a seriously faulty assumption, even within those groups who should be aligned.
For instance, consider a Board of Directors that discusses the financial performance of the enterprise. Somewhat surprisingly to some, Directors may have wildly different and competing goals for the purpose of the discussion or the end-state of financial oversight.
These might range from holding the management team accountable to helping the management team to put their best foot forward given the numbers; from identifying trends to support new or different strategies to discerning the external root cause for the performance.
Different goals are rarely compatible and most often compete with one another. This gets directly expressed in the group discussion, where conflict then begins to emerge.
Cutting these problems off at the pass is what smart leaders do. By agreeing to the end-state goal of any decision or purpose for the discussion, unnecessary conflict and ill-will can be avoided. Conflict in groups is inevitable, but combat between members is always optional.