Positive conflict

DiSC activity for teams or small organizations

Objective: Help team members see conflict as a natural part of the workplace and understand that it can be productive for teams and individuals.

Prerequisites: None for participants, other than they are all on the same team. Facilitators should know something about the team’s mission, charge, or goals. Exercise can be used in conjunction with Everything DiSC Productive Conflict or the Conflict section of The Five Behaviors Team Development or The Five Behaviors Personal Development.

Prior to the session, facilitators can share an article like Conflict Among Team Members Can Lead to Better Results from Entrepreneur, or watch the video Get Comfortable with Team Conflict from Harvard Business Review.

Materials: Easel pad or whiteboard (physical or virtual)

Time: ~45 minutes


  1. Introduce the concept of positive conflict. Ask for or provide examples of when conflict has led to better solutions, avoided a future problem, promoted creativity, facilitated inclusion, increased accountability, highlighted priorities, or broken away from group-think. Offer examples of roles that should be engaged in conflict, like sales and operations or marketing and legal. It's good to have one person or department looking for new solutions for customers while another is trying to create consistency that supports efficiency. 
  2. Ask for everyone to say what their role is on the team. It can be as simple as a job title. Record these answers.
  3. Ask the team to share with you the purpose of their team. What are the results they want? What are they trying to accomplish? Answers may vary and even contradict. Accept each answer and record them. Allow only minimal discussion. These answers should remain visible as you continue.
    Tip: If you find that the group is struggling or in major conflict around identifying their reason for existing as a team, you might want to continue that discussion and not progress any further. If the team has a charter, you might ask them if they want to add or subtract anything from it.
  4. Now return to the question of roles. Draw a large circle and divide it into wedges, one for each person. Encourage people to edit their roles in light of the discussion of team purpose. Have them consider what the team needs from them. For example, a customer service representative might want to change their role to client advocate. Or someone might choose to be the voice of possibility or the voice of history. Place everyone's role into a wedge in the team circle.
  5. Discuss as a team, capturing as many of their comments as possible:
      • What tensions do you see just from the diagramming of roles?
      • What roles naturally come into conflict with each other?
      • What’s the unique value of each role?
      • What stakeholders outside this team does each role serve?
      • How does each role support the team’s mission?
  6. Ask if there are tensions or conflicts that are necessary for their team to perform at its best. Talk about the importance of understanding that conflict can be productive and can be uncomfortable.
  7. Ask how the team can make it easier to allow natural role-based conflicts to occur and be worked out. Keep emphasizing that these conflicts among roles are normal and necessary. It’s important to hear from each role. Sometimes conflict is not the real problem, but rather how the conflict is ignored, avoided, or inflated.

Note: Personal conflicts are something different and outside this discussion. So are issues like budgets, access to data, or other resource-based conflicts that might surface. The focus for this exercise is roles-based only. It's possible that many discussions will begin and need to be deferred to a later date.

Follow-ups & support materials

This image can help those familiar with DiSC understand how they and others might respond to conflict.

These PowerPoint slides can be run while waiting for everyone to arrive. Or you might want to pick quotes or questions to share during training.

These articles relate to team conflict.

Let Your Team Have That Heated Conversation, Harvard Business Review

How to Encourage Meaningful, Needed Conflict at Work, The Balance Careers

For productive conflict, reframe your thoughts, discprofiles.com learning hub

8 ways to welcome conflict on your team, discprofiles.com learning hub

The Five Behaviors Personal Development

Train more effective and productive teammates