Gadugi: Overcoming Team Conflict to Achieve Goals

There is a Cherokee word, Gadugi, whose literal translation is “making the bread,” but it actually means, in modern common usage, “working together to achieve a common goal.”  In other words, we collaborate and work together to achieve the goals of the team, that, when aligned with the goals of the organization, leads to organizational performance.  If everything exists in a Circle and Truth is at the Center, then we must meet in the Center where we can work together in a highly focused manner in this spirit of Gadugi.

Unfortunately, as human beings, we bring a lot of our own baggage into our relationships.  These are things like our individual personal goals and fears, which can be different based on where we are in the Circle and our own behavioral styles.  As each person’s personal goals and fears are exhibited by their behaviors as they interact with each other, they will often experience negative conflict.  This negative conflict tends to pull team members individually towards the edges of the Circle and away from each other and the community (team, organization) goals.

As we look back at the DISC model, we will see that those who are predominantly D style will tend towards being competitive.  This arises from their goal of succeeding, and their fear of a loss of control and being taken advantage of.  These people tend to be competitive in their approach, and want to win as they engage in conflict with others.  This competitive nature can be off-putting to the other members, as D’s may try to win at all costs, including the needs of the team or at the expense of team values.

But the other behavioral styles also face their struggles, too.  For example, I’s strive for social recognition, and have a fear of being rejected or losing influence.  They tend to work towards finding a compromise, trying to insure that everyone is happy.  Unfortunately, this type of approach rarely makes everyone happy, sometimes even making some highly unhappy, and it rarely finds good solutions for the problems that the team might be facing.

Someone who is high on the S scale is going to be looking for stability and calmness, and they fear change and the unknown.  They tend to want to accommodate others, which means that often they will not speak up about things and sacrifice their own needs for the needs of others.  While reasoned sacrifice for the good of the community when there are no other options may be a good thing, simply giving in, which is a possible approach of a person who is high on the S scale, is more akin to surrender, and that is not good.  For a team to be effective, all members must participate.

Finally, someone who is high C will tend to be motivated by high standards of quality and accuracy, and have a fear of slipshod results or criticism of their work.  They tend to avoid any type of conflict at all, as they see it as being entirely unproductive, and often emotionally messy.  But emotions are a part of us and they can’t be ignored.  Positive things, like passion, compassion, and courage, come from our emotions, just as negative things, such as pettiness, greed and selfishness, can arise.  But for some, all they focus on are the negatives and not the positives that emotions can bring.

As teams come together to work, they can be pulled apart by this individual approach to the tasks at hand as each member deals with their own goals and fears.  These aren’t real teams, but rather a group of individuals that are working on a common task, but have their own individual goals.  The resulting conflict, whether overt and in everyone’s face, or covert and running just barely beneath the surface, has a huge negative impact on the performance of the team and the resulting outcome.  But by using the spirit of Gadugi, an approach of collaboration and coming together with a common purpose and goals for the team, allows the team to overcome this negative conflict and engage in positive conflict to find innovative solutions to solve problems.

For most people, the thought of “positive conflict” is entirely counterintuitive and a bit of an oxymoron.  But teams cannot work in the real world in an air of total harmony without having disagreements.  In fact, if a team is going to be innovative then it must be able to disagree about ideas and challenge each other about plans and approaches.  It is the only way that we are going to find the best solutions to the problems the organization is facing.  These disagreements are not about individuals or because a person is focusing on their individual goals and fears, but because all ideas must be explored.

This is very similar to the traditional approach that Cherokees took towards conducting Council meetings.  This approach was to use a Talking Stick to allow each person to speak out in the Council meeting.  The Talking Stick was passed from person to person, giving that person the right to speak and all others were to listen.  The Talking Stick gave the holder the power to share what was in their hearts and minds, but it also gave them the obligation to speak up, speak truthfully, and to speak gently, or in other words, not to degrade any other member of the Council and to focus only on ideas.

The Talking Stick was passed about the Council House until everyone had a chance to speak and share everything that they had to share.  The Talking Stick might be passed back and forth between two people several times in order to clarify what a person was saying, and then another person might join in, and then it may move on to someone else.  The conversation might ebb and flow, and drift here and there, and it might even get loud and passionate.  Yet, in the end everyone has had a chance to participate and share their thoughts, and a decision is made that is now put into action with the support of everyone.  And if things don’t end up working right then it will soon become evident; the process will begin again and a new decision will be made and put into action without blaming anyone for the outcome.

This is counter to the practices in many organizations.  When something goes wrong then the person who typically suggested the idea is pilloried and hung out to dry, becoming a pariah in the organization, and maybe even losing their job for proposing and pushing such a “horrible” idea that failed.  But in a traditional approach, when an idea is given in Council the person offering the idea no longer owns that idea; they gave it to the Council to do with it as it deemed appropriate.  If the idea is adopted and fails, then it is the responsibility of the entire Council, as the idea was given to them and they chose to move it forward.  But even then, the approach is not to seek blame, but rather to seek a solution to the current situation, and the work in the Council begins again.

What allows this sort of exchange in the Council, or on your team, is a foundation of Trust.  Teams that engage in Gadugi have members who accept and respect the other members of the team.  This allows the members of the team to be open and straightforward with each other about issues and problems, ideas and concerns, sometimes becoming passionate, without the fear of hurting someone personally or professionally.  The team learns to rely on each other’s strengths and expertise that they bring to the Circle.  Instead of the divergent behavioral styles pulling the team apart as the individuals focus on their own goals and fears, they are pulled together into the Center of the Circle where they feed off the energy of each person’s expertise and unique gifts as they achieve the goals of the team and the organization.

Make a Great Day!