Speak-Up for Performance


How do you improve performance? Do you cut costs and focus on efficiency, or invest in sales, technology and marketing? Should you develop your product suite or start from scratch on something new? Do you grow local market share or explore uncharted territories? You can't do it all, and you need speak-up culture to prioritise.


Because your choices will cause task conflict.

And this can be resolved in different ways:

  1. By Politics and Groupthink — the Marketing Director wades in with a big pitch to put brand front and centre. The product's a laughing stock so that won't do much good, but he's the CEO's golfing buddy and heir apparent. No one wants a Corporate Hunger Games so the heads around the table nod their consent.
  2. By Open Conflict — the team foster intellectual disagreement. They listen to opposing views, challenge each other and develop a balanced approach in response to the discussion.

You won’t be surprised to learn that the latter is shown to improve productivity. The task-focus of the conflict encourages teams to share information and put their collective strategy under a critical spotlight. But I bet you've also worked in teams that are more in line with the first option? That kind of decision-making might ring some bells.

This is Relationship Conflict (1)

Conflict turns toxic when it gets personal; it influences our effectiveness, our creativity and our satisfaction at work (2,3). The ‘deal’ of a shared vision is broken because we believe our Marketing Director cares more about his personal standing and success — it's not possible to engage in positive task conflict or speak-up effectively because we're not working toward the same endpoint. Our competing individual goals overshadow our shared objectives and constructive criticism is interpreted as an attack (4). Groupthink reigns supreme.


Having the trust and purpose to speak-up is the antidote.


The more an opportunity is perceived to hold collective value, the more likely we are to debate how it's brought to fruition. If there's no meaning in our work and no value in what we bring to our customers and communities, then why bother cultivating a team environment where we can speak-up? Purpose promotes feelings of belonging and connectedness, and these are critical pillars in sustaining our drive for performance (5). They offer us a platform for shared motivation.

Intra-team trust is closely linked; a management concept that sounds woolly but strikes me as a damn sight more productive than the average remuneration strategy. Last year, a meta-analysis of 112 studies showed a positive relationship between trust and team performance. The results supported Google's claim that ‘psychological safety’ - the confidence that you won't be rejected or punished for speaking up (6) - was the leading indicator of high performance among their internal teams.