Our everyday world is full of battles.   

Whether it’s the battle for the Iron Throne in ‘Game of Thrones’, or the battle to become Managing Partner in ‘Suits’, the entertainment we love pitches major characters against each other in a BATTLE  and we tune in episode after episode in anticipation of the battle, and the win.

Humans love a battle and there is good reason for this. Conflict gets the brains attention. Your brain is designed to seek out situations that may represent a ‘threat’ to you, and force you to pay attention until that threat goes away. Battles are a threat to the brain, so we pay attention to them.

The problem is that whilst BATTLES in the workplace are normal, they are not useful. 

Recent leadership approaches have encouraged us to have  ‘robust’ conversations but I believe that a lack of skill and understanding about HOW robust conversations need to occur has led to ‘battles’ that interfere with great team and organisational performance.

A BATTLE, at its most basic and obvious looks something like this:  

Person A:  ‘I think that John should be given this opportunity’

Person B:  ‘I don’t agree because John still needs to develop his project management capability and Jane is ready now’

Person A:  ‘Well, you haven’t taken into consideration that John ……’

Person B:  ‘Yes, but Jane….’

This is communication at the level of’ battle’, i.e. seeking to win with an idea or perspective, to get one’s own way or to be seen as right. Let’s face it, being right (winning the battle) is a positive and addictive experience for the human brain and so we see this pursuit of battle as worthwhile in anticipation of the win.

However, high performance requires communication at a different level – at the level of BUILD!

Leaders and teams need to level up the conversation and focus on what they need to BUILD or create.  This simple shift in focus…from BATTLE to BUILD…can revolutionise team performance.

There are four key steps to achieving BUILD: 

1.      ACKNOWLEDGE you are in BATTLE and refocus attention

“I can see we are battling each other…let’s pause and focus on the big picture”

2.      LISTEN and be truly CURIOUS, make sure everybody is heard and validated

Use words like…

 ‘so, what I understand is….’  

 ‘so, what you believe is….’  

 ‘so what you really want is…’


3.      BUILD a big picture vision that works for everyone

Ask questions like…

• What is the big picture here? 

• What is the strategic outcome we need? 

• If we get this right, what will it look like and what will be the impact? 

• What can we agree on as our end game? 

• How committed are we to leaving our previous focus aside, and achieving a new and better way? 

4.      Challenge the team to think differently…

Ask questions like:

·        What do we need to let go of in order to be successful? 

·        What specific decisions do we need to make? 

·        What is the most objective way to make those decisions? 

·        What skills or support do we need to bring this home? 

This week, be on the lookout for BATTLES and use these four simple steps to BUILD a useful outcome for your team.

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