How does your leadership team handle meetings that involve a topic where there are vastly opposing viewpoints accompanied by strong emotions? Hopefully, team members are able to keep the intensity in the optimal range of productivity. What happens when they don’t? For those who have had the “opportunity” to experience when the team fails to keep it in the optimal range, you know firsthand how it can derail meetings and impair relationships among team members.

If your experience is similar to mine, you can readily feel how the energy in the room changes, and the focus of the team (even if team members don’t realize it) becomes the poor dynamics. When team members lack sufficient capabilities, the team can end up wallowing in a collective quagmire. To beef up leadership team capabilities, try these strategies for managing disruptive exchanges:

Watch for Frequency

An occasional disruptive exchange is not unusual, because everyone has an “off day” once in a while. Even people who are very similar in perspectives will not agree on everything, because they are still different people. This is the nature of interpersonal relationships. Disruptive exchanges should be the exception rather than the norm. Therefore, pay attention to how often they occur. If they occur frequently, the team should take a closer look to determine what is behind them.

Check the Degree

While frequent occurrences merit further examination, this does not mean that one occurrence of a disruptive exchange should be given a “pass.” You want to gauge the impact the exchange has on the team and team members by evaluating the degree of severity. For example, an intense disagreement among team members that becomes a very personal attack can undermine team trust, cohesion and collaboration. If an exchange is extremely severe, even one occurrence merits taking a little time to figure out the underlying issue.

Measure Recovery Lag

As you and your leadership team colleagues continue down the path to becoming a high-performing team, you should notice the recovery time from a disruptive exchange decrease. Typically, this happens when you or fellow team members have developed ways to hit “reset”–decrease excessive intensity and enable the team to get back on track to productive work. Simple ways to do this range from switching to a different topic and then coming back to the topic with some parameters (e.g., start with the areas where you agree or have other team members present the areas where there are passionate differences) to taking a break to allow excessive intensity to subside.

Anticipate to Avert

One of the best strategies to manage disruptive exchanges among leadership team members is a preemptive one. In other words, prevent them from happening in the first place. This involves you and your team members becoming more aware of the process for how team members work together in addition to the content that they are discussing. Usually, most team members focus heavily on “content” and give little thought to “process.” As team members become more savvy about the dynamics of the group, they realize that certain areas or topics are likely to positively and negatively affect the way team members collaborate. Once you and your team members recognize this, preventive measures can be taken to ensure the intensity of the discussion stays in the optimal range as opposed to slipping into the counterproductive range. For instance, preventative measures could include reinforcing pre-existing team meeting ground rules as you point out the volatility of the topic or establishing parameters in real time to increase the efficiency for addressing the topic.

Disagreement among leadership team members is inevitable. The key is to keep disagreement from becoming disruptive so that it produces beneficial outcomes. In order to help the team move down the path to a higher-performing level, invest the time to develop team member capabilities to handle situations involving volatile topics and high team member intensity.


Ryan Lahti is the founder and managing principal of OrgLeader, LLC. Stay up to date on Ryan’s STEM-based organization tweets here: @ryanlahti

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