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Conflict Management

By ivascu Mar 09, 2014 900 Words
Practitioner Research
Review and Synthesis
Seiler [1] proposes a new way to think about intergroup conflicts. Indeed, he argues that traditional explanations such as simple personality clashes, conflicting ideas and competition for resources, authority or power do not pass the litmus test with regards to modern conflict management theories. Seiler posits that the health of the relationship between two groups is directly related to the “energy” devoted by groups to one another. In other words, how much time and effort the groups are willing to devote to each other’s demands. Through a series of cases, he illustrates how conflicts between groups can find their source in an inconsistent chain of responsibility, opposing values, prestige within the larger organization and a lack of checks and balances, to name a few. What this shows, is that troubles are often caused by a difference in point of views and legitimacy in authority. Without introducing a clear conflict resolution methodology, Seiler proposes two different types of resolution. The first resolution type is to reorganize the organizational workflow when the source of the conflict is authority. Indeed, the goal here is to rebalance the authority and prestige of the different groups composing the organization allowing for a more consistent workflow. The second resolution type involves intergroup training or counselling. The goal of this strategy is to integrate differing viewpoints by making warring groups understand they dependent on one another. Blake and Mouton [2] introduce two simple conflict management approaches to resolve conflicts or tensions between groups or functions. The first method called the interpersonal facilitator approach revolves around a neutral facilitator mediating between conflicting parties. The approach does not define a conflict resolution process but demonstrates when and how the facilitator must act to remove roadblocks, share messages between groups or simply get involved in the discussions. This is a classic mediating approach that works well if tensions or personal chemistry prevents direct communication between parties and when a decision, even an imperfect one, is required in a short time frame in order to avoid total breakdown. The second method called the interface conflict-solving approach still involves a neutral individual but this time to facilitate the conflict resolution process. Indeed, in this approach the conflicting groups deal directly with each other in a series of steps. The first step establishes the rules of engagement. Then, each group defines the conflict at hand from their own perspectives, share their views with the other parties involved and finally, consolidate all the views in a single statement agreed by all. The role of the facilitator is to enforce the rules and ensure that discussions do not deviate for subject during plenary discussions. He is otherwise uninvolved in the contents of the discussions, contrary to the first approach. Comparison and Analysis

The first step in resolving intergroup conflicts is to be able to identify the presence of a conflict and to diagnose its source. In that aspect, both articles come short. Seiler threads along the organisational structure perspective and thus, limits diagnosis capabilities while Blake and Mouton, provide no tools at all to diagnose such conflicts. Indeed, there are several dimensions that can help identify and diagnose intergroup conflicts: organizational structure (power, authority, role and responsibilities, goals compatibility and processes), culture (group cohesion, values, symbols, attitudes and perceptions), communication (mutual understanding, cooperation, leadership behaviors and trust). Once a proper diagnosis of the source of conflict is completed, one can use the proper tools to find a resolution to the conflict. Depending on the nature of the relationships between the groups and the severity of the conflict, there are four strategies one can take: avoidance, in the case where both the relationship and issue are not important, accommodation, in the case where the relationship is more important than the issue, competition, in the case the issue is more important that the relationship, and compromise, when the groups need to preserve the relationship and thus, resolve the conflict. High intensity conflicts in organizations will require some kind of compromise from all parties involved. Blake and Mouton detailed two approaches (interpersonal facilitator and interface conflict-resolution) from the compromise strategy and provided a decision grid on when to best apply each approach. In contrast, Seiler focuses on organisational reorganization and leaves it to the reader to search for specific conflict resolution approaches. Some solutions that were not mentioned by the authors but that could be useful in specific cases are: cooperation by edict from upper management, should the situation become critical, leadership replacement if the conflict lies at that level of the hierarchy, personnel rotation in order to diffuse interpersonal conflicts and flexible reporting relationships in order to foster collaboration between groups. In addition, neither article proposes a way to mitigate conflict escalation between feuding groups. However, both acknowledge that conflicts can quickly degenerate and take proportions that can harm the well-being of the organization. Finally, the three authors agree that an open minded and collaborative approach between groups is much more likely to succeed than with an approach that involves a third party, whether neutral or from upper management. Indeed, the collaborative approach forces parties to directly confront the source of the conflict and work together to bridge the gaps. References

[1] Seiler, John A. “Diagnosing Interdepartmental Conflict”. Harvard Business Review. Sep/Oct63, Vol. 41 Issue 5, p121-132. [2] Blake, Robert R.; Mouton, Jane S. “Overcoming group warfare”. Harvard Business Review. Nov/Dec84, Vol. 62 Issue 6, p98.

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