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From Locker Room to Boardroom – Turn Conflict into Confetti

How high-performing teams use conflict for growth 

Tuesday, a mild summer evening on the hockey fields of the Dutch SV Kampong. There I stood, a 17-year-old rookie among the “big guys” of the Men’s Team 1. Things were going well for me in terms of hockey—I was what they call “in form". And just at that moment, I got the chance to train with the first team. Nice. 

We were in the final phase of an intense training session’s end game. Wearing a disgustingly smelly blue jersey, I received the ball on the flank, halfway onto Team Red’s half. From the sidelines, the coach shouted, “10 seconds left!” My jersey might have stunk, but at least it was the right color; we were leading 2-1. As my coach’s words sank in, I glanced up and saw a split-second opportunity for a solo move toward the goal. Ignoring a hint from behind to maintain possession, I decided: This was my moment. I initiated my move, faked left and accelerated inside. 

My move was easily read, and I lost the ball. Worse yet, Team Red punished my selfish choice swiftly—they scored. With 2-2, it was game over. 

Believe me, if there was a hole in the ground to crawl into, I would have gladly disappeared. Unfortunately, time didn’t allow for that. Before I knew it, I was getting an earful. “What possessed me to attempt such a move?” “What the heck was I doing?” “I should never make such a choice again in that situation.” All at full volume. Meanwhile, Field 2 was eavesdropping, whether they wanted to or not. 

You might wonder if such a reaction was necessary. After all, it was just a training session. Besides, the kid was still learning the ropes. Why engage in conflict like that? Admittedly, those were my initial thoughts. Ideally, I wished it had never happened. But strangely enough, I now look back on that conflict moment as a valuable feedback and growth opportunity in my hockey career. It made me ponder two things: 1) the value of conflict, and 2) how to use it constructively and under what conditions. 

1) Where can you find the value in conflict? 


While conflict may seem destructive at first glance, it often harbors hidden value. Conflict brings unique benefits in three ways, allowing us to grow: 


Gaining others’ perspectives:  

Conflict situations provide an excellent chance to understand others’ perspectives. As individuals, we rely on mental shortcuts (heuristics) to make efficient decisions and solve problems. While these heuristics offer speed and cognitive efficiency, they also limit our insight and can lead to cognitive biases and oversimplification of problems or situations. By understanding others’ perspectives, we broaden our view, ultimately making better choices. That Tuesday evening, the conflict laid my teammates’ perspectives bare. Had they remained silent, I might have deluded myself into thinking they didn’t care much. But now, their opinions were crystal clear—and that was valuable. 


Unfiltered feedback:  

What makes conflict unique is that the feedback or input we receive is unfiltered. Sometimes even raw. The value lies in its honesty, clarity and directness—it leaves no room for ambiguity. Conflict forces us to confront what others truly think. - The unfiltered feedback on my move left no doubt, sharpening my understanding of my teammates’ views. 


Recognizable, impactful moments: 

Conflict often occurs in the heat of the moment and leaves a lasting impression, etching itself into our memory. This characteristic can be incredibly valuable. It helps us recognize similar situations or topics quickly in the future and link them to the lessons we learned from the past conflict. When teams approach conflicts as learning opportunities, those lessons remain with them for a long time. - Because the conflict unfolded right at the scene and made an impact, the feedback I received is easily relatable to that specific situation. Even now, ten years later, it helps me recognize similar scenarios during hockey matches and make the right choices to secure the desired outcome. 

2) How can you use conflict constructively and what are the necessary conditions? 

While conflict can be valuable, most people perceive it as unpleasant and avoid it whenever possible. Understandably so, as conflicts are emotional events often accompanied by anger or discomfort. And to top it off, our bodies react with stress. Not ideal! So, how can we ensure that workplace conflict doesn’t turn destructive but instead becomes a constructive growth opportunity for the team? In other words, how do we turn conflict into confetti? 


Approach conflict as a conscious learning moment:

Create opportunities to reflect on conflicts explicitly within the team. Clarify the lessons each team member has learned. By doing so, you transform conflict into a positive learning experience. 


Establish clear communication agreements: 

Open and respectful communication, guided by clear agreements and boundaries, prevents people from feeling personally attacked and keeps conflict from becoming destructive. 


Highlight positive examples of constructive conflict: 

Explicitly appreciate the positive lessons learned from conflicts. Additionally, reward behavior that encourages constructive conflict. This way, constructive conflict becomes part of your team culture. 


Sounds straightforward, right? However, be aware that teams must meet one essential condition to turn conflict into valuable growth moments: trust. Without a safe environment of trust, there’s no room for constructive conflict, learning moments or conflict confetti. Stay tuned for blog number three of this series, where we’ll delve into the fundamental importance of trust. 


As the Transformation Team, we help teams integrate constructive conflict into their culture, elevating each other to new heights. But remember, while conflict can be valuable, this isn’t a call to actively seek conflict in every situation. However, just like on the sports field, avoiding conflict at work isn’t always the answer—it can be incredibly useful when the right conditions are in place. So, ask yourself: Does your team experience conflict? Should it happen more often? Do you learn from those conflict moments, or does it mostly lead to destructive outcomes? 


In our next blog, we’ll step onto the soccer field and explore how shouting “shut up” can hold value.  


Chayenne Heide 

Daan 't Gilde  

Niels Neering 

Do you want to build high-performing teams? Get in touch:

Peter Hardy

Director Transformation

T: +31650929204


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