Conflict in the Organisation

Conflict Management Skills

The stereotype that conflict is always detrimental is coming under attack from many researchers.

There is a growing school of thought that conflict can stimulate an energetic and dynamic working environment that shakes apathy and compliance to its core.

However, there is an equally vocal group that finds conflict is always dysfunctional and its consequences can far outweigh any potential benefits.

Conflict Can Effect Radical Change

In many organisations when radical change is necessary to fight stagnation and apathy, managers deliberately introduce conflict to raise the intensity of a group.

New ideas and concepts can come from this intense level of activity.

But, arguably, these ideas can just as easily come from cohesive group activity that is orchestrated by responsible managers.

The truth is that radical change can come from a variety of methods, conflict being one of them.

But the risks of conflict may make this a risky undertaking.

The Consequences of Conflict

Conflict can kill a vital workforce because of the human element that defines a workgroup.

Hurt feelings and anger may sound like petty complaints but as an active element of a workgroup, they can be fatal.

Employee dissatisfaction leads to turnover, reduced productivity, and the potential for violence in the workplace.

Given these risks, most managers look for safer ways to stimulate workers.

Conflict Can Increase Group Cohesiveness

Workgroups respond to outside threats and often bond and pool their resources to ward off threats to their group integrity.

Managers can introduce conflict to bring a group together and create an us-or-them mentality. Individuals may feel a sense of connection with their co-workers and increased collaboration can result.

The group becomes a single unit whose primary goal is to meet expectations as a way of self-preservation.

But is this a good thing?

It is important to remember that this perceived threat is just that perceived.

Once a group’s goals are met it frequently becomes clear to group members that they have been manipulated and feel used for mercenary reasons.

Also, the bonds that are formed are often not dissolved at the end of the mission.

The roots of distrust for management or scepticism in management objectives can sabotage future projects.

Team building exercises and an empowering manager can just as effectively nurture group cohesiveness without subterfuge and manipulation.

Alliances and bonds can be created through healthy ways that do not pit workers against each other. Research shows that these ties can often promote a high degree of worker satisfaction as personal goals match organisational goals.

Conflict Can Stimulate a Higher Degree of Innovation

Because of the slightly higher level of tension, employees can work harder to find new and innovative solutions to problems.

By virtue of the higher tension levels, group members are more dynamic and motivated to find previously unknown ways of solving problems simply because of the increased level of ideas and sharing that occurs.

Much like a think tank operates, members find a new openness to bring ideas and thoughts to the table and answers are the outcome.

But is introduced conflict the only way to increase the levels of tension?

Indeed, many forms of brainstorming come from introducing healthy competition to the group.

Competition does not mean conflict. Contests, humorous team activity, and incentives can increase the level of tension without negative consequences.

Employees relate that they feel like they are having fun at work when tension is a positive force.

Employees competing to find a better way to resolve a problem when the reward is a relatively minor incentive are not likely to be hostile to the winner.

More serious competition with significant rewards can still allow all group members to walk away feeling good as long as their individual contributions are acknowledged and appreciated by managers and members alike.

While there are different schools of thought on conflict as a motivator, responsible managers know that conflict may be a risky means to an end.

The potential for employee dissatisfaction and disillusionment can make a quick solution a costly one.

Most importantly, managers need to look at the individuals that make up their workforce as individuals and not just a cog in the machine.

Healthy team building is the key to problem-solving not manipulation and subterfuge.

This article was contributed by Melissa Vokoun

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