Managing conflict in the work place can be tricky. We have all seen various levels of conflict in our offices. Sometimes the conflicts are resolved quite quickly, while in other circumstances, the conflict between employees can linger for years. As managers and coworkers, how we approach and deal with the conflict between employees can have a significant impact on the office’s productivity. This article will contain steps and ideas that can be used to identify and resolve conflict between employees. This includes training and strategies related to the causes of conflict, the stages, and the appropriate ways to manage the situations. This information is appropriate for anyone who has dealt with work place conflict whether as a manager, supervisor or coworker.
Types of Conflict
There are several types of conflicts that people commonly encounter at work and with each type of conflict come multiple reasons for it. Generally, work place conflicts will fall into one of three categories; these are disputes over task responsibility, over how something should be done, and issues that are related to personality and work styles. The causes of the conflict can usually be attributed to these reasons: stress, lack of communication, jealousy, complacency, poor management, personality clashes, and/or poor work ethic. With all of these reasons one can see why conflict in the work place is so common. Working through the reasons as to why people get into conflict can help people work towards better understanding of why conflict develops in the work place. Being able to identify the type of conflict and reason for it will be important to helping resolve the conflict quickly and effectively.
Need for Conflict Management
It is important to understand the need for quick and effective management of conflicts in the work place. Persistent conflict at work can have a tremendous effect on the productivity of both the individuals engaged in the conflict as well as the coworkers that interact with them on a daily basis. When an inter-office conflict begins to affect the relationships of the office coworkers many of the following symptoms can occur: decreased trust, teamwork, quality of work, morale, loyalty, self-esteem, and loss of respect for the supervisor in the work place. Once we understand the impact inner-office conflict has on the day-to-day operations of the work place it is easy to become motivated to address this issue rather than allowing it to persist.
Stages of Conflict
Before we can resolve work place conflict we need to understand the emotional state of each employee that is engaged with the conflict. We can do this by identifying which of the stages of conflict the employees are experiencing. Once the stage of conflict is identified, it will be easier to manage the conflict and find a resolution. There are nine stages that each person engaged in the conflict will progress through.
1) The first stage is known as hardening and is where feelings of frustration or irritation first begin to develop.
2) Second is the debates and polemics stage where discussions begin to evolve into arguments.
3) The third stage is known as actions rather than words and is usually where each party will stop talking to each other.
4) The fourth stage is images and coalitions. This stage can be identified as the time when each person reaches out to find other individuals that will support their side by describing the issue to them.
5) Stage five is known as loss of face. Here employees will try to embarrass or discredit the other person to their coworkers in hopes that they will support their actions in the conflict.
6) The sixth stage is strategies of threats where each person in the conflict will attempt to threaten the other person.
7) The seventh stage that follows is known as limited destructive blows. In this stage each party will begin to identify how they will bring down the other coworker involved with the conflict.
8) Stage eight is known as fragmentation.
9) The last stage is known as together into the abyss.
In these final stages the conflict has escalated so far that one’s own personal well being is no longer a concern and their desire to bring down the other person is so great that they give no regard to the pain that they may cause themselves. These steps illustrate how a conflict can escalate out of control if it is not addressed early in the stages of conflict. Understanding the stage of the conflict will allow for better management of the situation.
Once a conflict has initiated and the reasons and stage have been identified, it is time to address the issue and help resolve the conflict. The follow steps will help any manager or coworker mediate the conflict between the employees:
-Air all viewpoints from both sides of the conflict
-Clarify the problem and the interests involved
-Brainstorm solutions with both parties
-Help both sides reach agreements
-Be aware of your own bias and do not let it affect your ability to remain impartial
The most important point to remember with these steps is to be an active listener. Active listening can serve two points. First it is a great way to make sure you understand what is being said from both parties. Second it projects to the employees that you are both interested and concerned about their issue. Both of these points to being an active listener will be helpful to resolve the issues from both sides of the conflict.
Conflicts can have a significant impact in the work place and should not be ignored. It is imperative for managers, supervisors, and even coworkers to engage individuals that are causing inner-office conflicts. A few points to keep in mind are to be aware of conflict stages and then respond to them when they are noticed, put in place a process for resolving conflicts and get agreement on it, and encourage everyone to learn conflict-resolution skills. Additionally training on conflict management and mitigation are recommended for anyone that would like to decrease conflict in their place of work. However, I have found that to be a good mediator and manger of conflict takes both practice and a desire to help employees resolve problems.
Gahr, Richard & Mosca, Joseph. (1995). Conflict resolution and mediation. Leadership and Organization Development Journal. v16n8, p. 37-39
California, U. o. (n.d.). www.hrweb.berkeley.edu/guide/conflict.htm.
Male, B. (1995). Managing Human Behavior in Public and Non Profit Organizations. US Department of Energy.
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Managing conflict in the work place can be tricky. We have all seen various levels of conflict in our offices. Sometimes the conflicts are resolved quite quickly, while in other circumstances, the conflict between employees can linger for years. As managers and coworkers, how we approach and deal with the conflict between employees can have a significant impact on the office’s productivBen Rabon Articles
I remember my first project as a newly promoted project manager. While I had received academic training in business administration and economics, I had begun my career among the technical ranks. My promotion to project manager was largely due to my ability to code programs in CICS assembler, Cobol, and at the time the newly emerging programming languages called “4GLs”. What I soon found out was that technical roles do little to prepare a person to advance into a management level position. I was not yet aware of the leadership required interacting with a team. In many ways a technical person is even hindered from making such a transition.
There are stages that a person with a technical background will visit while transitioning into management. The first stop is typically project management, the natural progression for a person who has spent considerable time as a successful project team member. A successful experience in project management may eventually lead to the next stage of a senior staff management position such as a department head, divisional manager or even vice president. It is during the first stage, project management that a technical person begins to encounter the issues that arise when making the transition into management. How well one adapts and begins to demonstrate leadership will likely determine the pace at which they progress through management.
In my experience I have witnessed many people make the same transition that I made, moving from programmer, to analyst, to project manager (PM, as we call it), to department head. Some succeeded, but many if not most either failed or became average PMs. The ingrained habit of personally defining specifications, designing and implementing solutions, and solving technical problems becomes a hurdle to overcome during the transition to management. In short, it is difficult for a “hands on” person to suddenly find themselves “hands off” in a similar way that a new coach finds it difficult to stay off the field. Here are some tips to help a “propeller head” traverse the path to project management.
Jump ahead – define the objective
When I found myself a project manager for the first time I was shocked to find that I had no idea how to get started. I knew how to execute but had never planned, motivated, and driven a project as the PM. I knew how to enter information into a project plan but could not seem to get the project off the ground. What was being required of me were the essential qualities expected of a leader. Frustrated and struggling, I sought advice from a seasoned PM in my company. He advised me simply to, “jump ahead of them and they will follow you”. Good advice and still effective. How do you jump ahead? By defining the project in terms of the overall objectives and benefits to the team members as well as clearly spelling out the roles, responsibilities and expectations. My mentor immediately helped me prepare a meeting to define the project objectives and assignments. My seasoned PM was telling me I needed to create a vision!
An important consideration when establishing an objective is its level of difficulty and how it could contribute to the team member’s need for achievement. If the objective is perceived to be too easy, the team member is not motivated. If the objective is perceived to be unattainable, the team member is again not motivated. It is only when the objective is perceived to be both challenging and attainable that motivation of the team is achieved.
Before the team can begin the project, they must know exactly what they are expected to do. Clearly articulated objectives, team participation in goal setting and action planning, and objectives that are challenging but attainable are the keys to driving a project team forward and maximizing performance. Key steps required to jump ahead as an effective leader include:
1. Define the project objectives and clearly communicate how successfully completing the project will benefit the company and the team members.
2. Working with each team member, determine his or her project role, responsibilities, and objectives.
3. For each team member, develop an action plan to achieve project objectives and ask the team member for his or her commitment.
4. Offer your confidence and support to the team member and set up a follow up time for progress review.
Stay at a high level
One of the first tasks that I assigned to myself as a new PM was to code several programs that needed to be developed by the project team. I was intending to help the other team members by being “one of them”. Not to mention that I enjoyed programming. Big mistake. When the coach grabs a helmet and lines up on the field there is no one coaching, adjusting the game plan to adapt to on-going changes, planning new plays, making the decision whether to go for it on fourth down, etc. But the urge for a technical person to delve back into the details is great. It is essential that the PM stay at a high level and direct the project or the project will go undirected. Change management, issue management, navigating obstacles, and leveraging the team by coaching the members is essential to success as a leader. In addition, there is momentum produced by team members as they progress on a project, achieving each milestone to completion. This energy is sapped as the leader interferes with or micromanages areas in which other team members are responsible.
One way to stay at a high level is to prepare a “project notebook” at the outset of the project. The project notebook will keep the PM at a 30,000-foot view. The project notebook contains all project documents, status reports, Gantt charts, project plans, issue logs, change control forms, etc. Constantly and accurately maintaining this information will force the manager to stay at a high level while also adding to his or her efficiency. Many companies possess web based software running on their intranet that will serve the same function as a repository for all project related documents and greatly enhance the usefulness of the information.
Leverage the team
Effective managers always lead with a coaching style. They find the key to leveraging other people in order to get a project completed successfully. And that key is to identify and maintain the proper balance between supporting employees at appropriate times when they need support and not intruding on the force they generate by self-reliance and self-direction. Leaders with a technical background tend to want to direct others much like they directed themselves to achieve technical assignments. A technical person wants to “do it themselves”. Though unnatural at first, it will make management a great deal easier and will drive success more quickly if the technical person learns to leverage the team as contrasted in the following table.
Directing the team
Leveraging the team
Holds Back Information
Allows Less Autonomy
Allows More Autonomy
That first project that I had the opportunity to manage was a real learning experience about leadership. Having had primarily a technical background, I had not been prepared to let go and rely on others achieve success. Since then I have made it a practice to jump ahead immediately by defining the clear objectives, maintain a high level big-picture view, and leverage the talents and abilities of the team that I manage. In a nutshell, I have learned the value of providing a vision! And I haven’t coded a program in years.
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About the author:
Dave has over 17 years of experience in information technology, technology services and management. He has provided management and technical consulting to numerous Fortune 500 companies and is currently Senior Vice President of services for Computer Associates, International. He has a bachelor’s degree in Management Information Systems and Economics from Bowling Green State University and an MBA in systems management from Baldwin Wallace College.
I remember my first project as a newly promoted project manager. While I had received academic training in business administration and economics, I had begun my career among the technical ranks. My promotion to project manager was largely due to my ability to code programs in CICS assembler, Cobol, and at the time the newly emerging programming languages called “4GLs”. What I sooDave Hooper Articles
Success factors in business can be divided into two major categories: those that deal with things and those that deal with people. Although many organizations spend millions of dollars on capital equipment, human capital has the highest potential of value for the organization. Teamwork and the role it plays in dealing with people within an organization is a top priority for many leaders. This thesis will explore the positive and negative effects of teams, the value of teams in various venues, and both positive and negative issues that can influence adaptation of teamwork culture.
Understanding what a team is and how it works is the first step to implementing teamwork culture into your organization. According to Modern Management website (2003),
A team is two or more employees who are organizationally empowered to establish their objectives, to make decisions about how to achieve those objectives, to undertake the tasks required to meet them, and to be individually and mutually accountable for their results. (n.p.)
Teams are organized so that appropriate talents and skills are pooled together to accomplish a specific goal. This pooling of human resources requires team members to have an array of skills that individual or routine jobs do not demand. The benefits of pooling these resources include increased productivity, improved customer service, more flexible systems, and employee empowerment. The goal is that the sum total of the team is greater than the individuals themselves.
Building a team begins at an even more basic level than just choosing team members. The team environment is best served when the persons selected for the team have some similar and some diverse characteristics. Some similar characteristics to look for when forming a team are an ability to communicate with various people, share knowledge, collaborate, generate ideas, respect other persons, productivity, flexibility, commitment, and be enthusiastic. People must be able to think on their own before they can think as a team. Also, a level of self-confidence must exist for the team members to feel safe in the team environment to express ideas that may be discarded by the team. A type of safe zone must exist within the team to avoid stifling creativity and ideas. Treatment of team members as internal customers should be the norm. The diversity is best displayed in skills, critical thinking, and a “thinking outside the box” innovative focus. Members having a variety of job titles and seniority, and white-collar and blue-collar employees can also be a diversity factor. Diversity can also involve the technical and human needs of the team.
The best business strategy requires the best people strategy. For an organization to be successful, the skills needed by the employees are the behaviors, attitudes, and knowledge needed to be successful both on the job and as an individual. These personal management skills are the building blocks for good morale, a focused worklife, and greater organizational productivity. The employees drive an organization’s success. Employee’s skills must be aligned with the organization’s goals in an increasingly competitive market. As each organization is unique, customization of the specific requirements (hard skills) is needed, but the generalities remain the same. Soft skills are important to the success of the team and organization itself. This skill set involves proper communication, team building, conflict management, good supervision, internal and external alliances, relationship building with stakeholders, working with others to generate creative ideas and solutions, participatory management, and performance evaluation.
The individual employee may need some additional education and training to perform well in the workplace. Continual technological advances cause training to be an ongoing function in business. The ability to apply more efficiently new knowledge and skills will aid the organization in meeting and exceeding its strategic goals and competitive challenges. Seminars and corporate training sessions are convenient, relatively inexpensive ways to update needed skills. The education and training are important factors for increasing organizational performance.
Opportunities for lifelong learning should be provided to all levels of employees that will promote and increase organizational performance directly. Learning should become a habitual activity rather than an occasional event. Training must be tied to the organization’s strategic business requirements and maintain the organization’s core competencies in every field at every level. Workers should be held accountable for learning new skills. Many organizations are building the accountability into performance evaluations as a method of emphasizing its importance.
Some employees will shy away from or staunchly refuse training and learning. Reasons can be varied. According to Sparks (2004), learning requires vulnerability. It involves self-disclosure and risk taking. High-quality connections produce all three of these qualities. High-quality connections also enable individuals and the collective to grow in unanticipated directions. (n.p.) Learning is more than acquiring information. It is a social activity that leads to more complex ways of thinking. Professional development leaders can increase learning by actively cultivating richer, more positive connections among people. This would have a higher yield of professional learning than the importation of experts who dispense lots of information.
Enhancing the competency of the project managers and team members gives the organization more opportunity for success. Organizations need to leverage and build on the knowledge, skills, and competencies available within the organization. Competent people must be assigned to the team. The term competent means that the team leader or member is operating at acceptable levels of performance in his or her areas of training and experience. It does not mean that each member has perfect knowledge of all areas. Competence also involves acknowledging what you do not know and having the courage to express these concerns. The key is to know when to obtain assistance and expertise.
Communication skills are imperative in today’s workforce environment. Many business leaders estimate that deficiencies of communication skills cost employers millions of dollars of lost productivity and errors. The communication skills include interpersonal, teamwork, and negotiation skills. An employee interacts with other people to perform his/her work emphasizing the need for skills such as the ability to handle stress, interact easily with others, listen to others, and cope with undesirable behavior in others. Anyone who has been in the workforce for any period of time can attest to the fact that there is almost always at least one employee that is difficult to deal with and work around. Effective teams find that when positive talk exceeds negative talk, there’s a quality of connection among team members. This leads to the accomplishment of collective work that none of the individual team members thought was possible.
According to Zolgio (2003), a cohesive work team can add value to the organization if it pays attention to the ongoing development of three important connections: to the larger work organization, to team members, and to other work teams. (n.p.) Building the right team is as important as the teamwork culture itself. The culture must support and encourage teamwork for it to be successful. According toMontebello (2004), the work itself must be conducive to teams, a culture of cooperation must be crafted, and organizational systems must be engineered to reinforce collaboration. (p. 541) The work must be such that completion by a team can result in a better end product.
Before a group of co-workers can develop into a team, it must first be a team. Teams are a reasonably stable unit with a shared responsibility for a defined piece of work. Members develop familiarity with one another and with the task, so they can get to work more quickly. They learn who is skilled or knowledgeable in different aspects of the project. According to Hackman (2002), the National Transportation Safety Board found that 73% of all mishaps occurred on the flight team’s first day of flying together, before they’ve had the chance to learn through experience how to best work together. (n.p.) Stability of the membership allows for growth of commitment to the team and to each other. Competent teams learn fairly rapidly how to work together.
Another key element to the team’s success is the team members. According to Mason (2003):
The team leader seeks to attract all the people who really know something about the issue and bring their ideas together as a way to structure discussion. At their best, these leaders make scenarios a way for people to work new ideas into the planning and decision making system with out-of-the-box ideas and inputs. (n.p.)
Teamwork culture can be defined as a network of skilled employees who support each other in the achievement of corporate goals, and the delivery of exceptional products or services. According to Teambuildinginc.com (2003):
Whether we realize it or not, a workplace is a community. A team is also a community. The town has a culture, a common language, a process of operation, rules for order, and a purpose for being, i.e., safety, security, and efficiency in living. In the same way, a workplace is a community. (n.p.)
As I have worked in Accounting for 20 years for several companies, I have experienced first-hand the workplace community. Accounting has its own common language such as P&L or 2290. Only a few outside the department know the vernacular used within each department. I have also personally noticed a culture among staff members. Culture can include similar hobbies or sports, such as golf, or similar taste in clothing or choice of restaurants. The rules for order and a purpose for being have also been identified. Accounting rules of order and purpose for being include producing monthly financials and tasks accomplished in a specific method. Personally, I would conclude that not only does the business itself become a community, but also the departments within the business are a segment of the community.
It is hard to find work places that exemplify teamwork. A teamwork environment tends to flatten the traditional pyramid-style hierarchy. This step can foster a more collaborative staff. It can also be a threat to managers that tend to place their personal value in their job title. The isolation of the hierarchy and its power is being replaced with partnering, team relationships, common goals and visions, and a large change in the organization’s dynamics. Teambuilding is a work culture that values collaboration. In a teamwork environment, people understand and believe that thinking, planning, decision-making, and actions are better done collectively. This is an exception to the way most business has been done in the past. According to Mason (2003), rank-and-file employees expect management to set the direction the organization is taking, but resent detailed task planning. If given some direction, they expect to be trusted to get it done. (n.p.) This is the very root of teambuilding. According to Chien (2004):
Performance is one of the key terms of modern organization. Performance means the transformation of inputs into outputs for achieving certain outcomes. Performance is the equivalent to the famous 3 E’s of economy, efficiency, and effectiveness. Some elements of successful organizations doing total development work include selection of cohesive teams based on sentiments of mutual liking and respect for each other’s expertise, controlled convergence to solutions that everyone understands and everyone accepts, organize vigilant information processing and encourage actively open-minded thinking, avoid the facile, premature consensus, maintain the best balance between individual and group work, and initiate generation of new concepts. (n.p.)
According to Plato (427-347 B.C.), “The excessive increase of anything often causes a reaction in the opposite direction.” Polarity between employers and employees can occur without proper presentation of the goals and rewards of supporting a teamwork culture. Opposition to the teamwork culture surfaces in a variety of ways through various stages of life.
One of the negative points to consider when teambuilding or promoting teamwork culture begins in childhood. According to Grazier (2003):
Most of us in the workforce today were taught that teamwork is associated with play, while achievement and work were associated with individual performance. Overcoming ideas gained in childhood can be a challenge. Old paradigms die hard. Another negative point is that changing the work group structure without changing the organization’s culture to support this, it will not work. (n.p.)
Individual achievement is almost an American ideal. We are taught that ideal from early childhood. Much of our educational processes are based on individual learning and achievement. In school settings, teamwork is considered cheating. After 12 years or more of this type of conditioning, buying into a teamwork setting will probably take change management and transitional thinking. In order for this change to succeed, we must first understand the dynamics of change. Three basic elements in creating successful change are both personal and organizational. The elements are: the desire to change (personal), the ability to change (personal), and the permission to change (organizational). Many organizations consider their people as expenses, rather than assets with intellectual property. This idea must be among the first to change. According to Grazier (2003), the reasons we resist change are very personal and unique, so changing the thinking of many people in an organization will probably require a variety of approaches. The three elements involve motivation (desire), ability (skills), and authorization (permission) by the organization. (n.p.) According to Bateman (1999), management must enlist the cooperation of its people to implement a change….with education, communication, participation, and involvement. (pp. 613-614) With successful change management, teambuilding can begin.
So just what is teambuilding? Teambuilding is a process of awareness building. It’s helping people become aware that they are greater collectively than individually. People become aware that our decisions and their results can be better with collaboration and an honest appreciation of each other’s interaction. The simplistic definition of teambuilding is helping people understand this. We must shift our thinking and perception of others to an honest value of other’s skills, knowledge, and abilities.
Some advantages of teamwork culture are promotion of talents, skills, and creativity of diverse people. It also utilizes skills, time, and resources for benefit of the employee and employer. According to McGraw (2004), “without creativity we are nothing.” (p. 30) A trait common to creative thinkers is their perseverance in solving a problem. Teamwork encourages collaboration, which, at its core is co-labor or working together toward a common, meaningful goal. It combines collective knowledge so that the sum total of the collaboration is greater than what could have been achieved individually. People who understand the power of collaboration seldom make a unilateral decision willingly. These people know that any decision they make will be improved in some way by the thoughts of another. According to McGraw (2004), the need to work in teams seems to be an essential part of the creative process. (p. 30) According to Chien (2004), teams, which are increasingly being used, are organized in the workplace so that appropriate talents and skills can be pooled to accomplish vital tasks and goals. (p. 289)
According to Dyer (2002), another advantage is with the increasing pressure to be “first-to-market” with a new product. First-to-market organizations with dedicated team structures were quantifiably faster while maintaining a measurably higher percentage of quality in their products. (p. 16) Competitive arenas require quick decisions by knowledgeable employees who work close to the source of problems. Teams enable knowledge-based and innovative decision making in a much shorter time period. This reduces product cycle times.
Some of the negative impact of teamwork culture remains that asking people to work together while simultaneously placing them in a competitive system often results in inaction rather than action. If it is a team in name only, it will not be successful. According to Grazier (1999), in that situation, inaction occurs rather than action. There will be little energy to move forward. (n.p.)
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About the author:
Debbie Garrison is the Controller for Lesco, Inc., a regional truck leasing firm in Chattanooga, Tennessee. She is a graduate of Bellevue University, Bellevue, Nebraska, with a Bachelor’s Degree in Management as well as an Associate’s Degree in Accounting and Business Administration from Drury University in Springfield, Missouri, making the Dean’s List at both schools. She currently resides in Chattanooga, Tennessee, with her husband and their two dogs.
Success factors in business can be divided into two major categories: those that deal with things and those that deal with people. Although many organizations spend millions of dollars on capital equipment, human capital has the highest potential of value for the organization. Teamwork and the role it plays in dealing with people within an organization is a top priority for many leaderDebbie Garrison Articles
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