“Honest disagreement is often a good sign of progress” – Gandhi
The Oxford English Dictionary defines “conflict” as, “an incompatibility between two or more opinions, principles, or interests.”
What is the value of conflict in an FMEA?
Conflicts are bound to arise from time to time. They can be positive and beneficial. An absence of any expressions of disagreement or conflict may indicate a problem in adequacy or quality of facilitation. Facilitators should not be afraid of conflict, but should learn the value of disagreements and how to manage them. Understanding the difference between healthy debates and dysfunctional arguments is critical to good facilitation.
Should an FMEA facilitator be concerned if there are no conflicting opinions or ideas in an FMEA?
The short answer is “yes.” FMEAs bring out the best thinking of the team, and often a team will discover things that individuals have missed. In order to do this, it is usually necessary to bring to the surface differences in opinions and priorities. Lack of expression of differences of opinion can mean that one or more team members are holding back their opinions to avoid conflict.
What are the benefits of conflicting opinions or ideas in an FMEA?
Conflict allows team members to consider different points of view and encourages new thinking. It can raise important questions and lead to breakthroughs in thinking. If managed well, open debate and raising conflicting ideas can lead to better FMEA results.
Unfortunately, some people feel surprised or even threatened when experiencing conflict. Team members can suddenly feel like adversaries, and stir their emotions. Some people react to conflict in unhealthy ways.
The FMEA facilitator should be skilled in managing conflict and encouraging healthy behaviors.
How should conflict be managed in an FMEA?
There are effective and ineffective ways to manage conflict:
- Some facilitators use “Avoiding” — not dealing with conflict at all. It should rarely be used and only when situations are extreme and cannot be resolved during the meeting.
- Some facilitators use “Win/Lose” — using force to make points. This rarely works.
- Others use “Compromising” — finding a middle ground. This usually ends up with less than optimum solutions and should only be used when faced with polarizing and unworkable choices.
- The best method is “Collaborating” — people working together to find the best solution. Skilled facilitators prefer this approach.
FMEA sessions work best when debates are healthy. Healthy debates consist of these elements:
- Being open to hearing ideas from other people.
- Listening and responding to ideas.
- Understanding other persons’ points of view.
- Staying objective and focusing on the facts.
- Using a systematic approach in debating ideas.
Facilitators should use these techniques to encourage healthy debates:
- Pointing out differences.
- Assertively requiring that participants listen.
- Using rules politely.
- Focusing on the facts.
- Inviting feedback.
- Controlling conversation.
Firmly disallowing rude behavior or comments that demean character or personality is essential. If any behavior occurs that is not conducive to healthy discussions, the facilitator must immediately refer the offending person or the entire group to the meeting norms and insist on adherence.
A good facilitator views conflicting opinions as a healthy way to bring out all sides of an issue. It is important for each team member to have a chance to discuss his/her viewpoints on any contentious issues. Here the facilitator uses a combination of skills, such as probing questions, active listening and consensus building.
Users sometimes ask if an FMEA should document the alternatives that were considered or debated by the FMEA team before achieving consensus. This can be done, as long as the entries meet company guidelines for good documentation.
Brainstorming is a technique for getting a flow of ideas on the table before making decisions. In this next article, we will discuss how to use brainstorming to enhance FMEA effectiveness, and when (and when not) to use brainstorming.