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Workplace Conflict is a Management Problem


Fri Jun 08 2012


(From CBSNews.com) -- Why can't we all just get along? Because we can't. Welcome to the Petrie dish of human dysfunction called planet Earth. And yes, you really are welcome. Misery loves company.

Conflict is as natural for people as it is for animals. As long as territory, food, mates, and in the case of humans, money, are limited, there's conflict. It is what it is.


Not only that, but as environments go, the workplace is a relatively small, closed system. Talk about a zero-sum game. There are limited raises, promotions, recognition, resources -- everything's limited. It's surprising anything gets done at all. Really.

So, despite the best management and organizational systems, conflict happens, right? Well, yes and no. While it's convenient to blame employee conflict on differences in personality and style or folks just behaving badly, in reality, that doesn't cover it. Not even close.

In my experience, many - if not most - workplace conflicts are a function of management problems. It's true at just about every level in the organization. And when management conflict is chronic, that's almost always a sign of executive dysfunction.

Don't believe me? Here are 7 examples of leadership or organizational issues that create breeding grounds for employee conflict.

Shared, split or unclear responsibility. When responsibility is shared or isn't clearly defined, that's a recipe for disaster. That's why I don't believe so-called "two in a box" management works unless the functions are discretely divided. Even then, there are conflicts. I see it time and again at all levels.


Centralized organizational functions. Whenever you have centralized organizational functions like HR, IT, marketing or sales, for example, there's serious potential for conflict between people fighting over resources. Happens all the time. It's a resolvable matrix management issue, but it isn't easy and not every company gets it right.

Ineffective compensation and review systems. Nothing breeds employee-level conflict more than when compensation or review systems are dysfunctional. For example when criteria isn't well-defined, there are more exceptions than rules, or promotions and raises are done by tenure instead of merit.

Up and coming stars thwarted by "the system." The opposite of the above is when review and compensation systems aren't flexible enough to allow for certain individuals with star potential to be identified and offered an accelerated path.

Read more.

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