Definition of Conflict
Conflict arises whenever and wherever there is an incompatibility of cognitions or emotions within individuals or between individuals or groups. This definition of conflict encompasses the notion of real or perceived interdependence (Corvette, 2007).
Types of organisational conflicts
Conflict is an inevitable part of organisations. From top-level management to small informal groups of individuals, organisational conflict is present everywhere in an organisational. Conflicts in an organisation may be structural or interpersonal in nature (American Management Association, n.d.). Structural conflict is rooted in the very nature of an organisation. An organisation would divide work among teams, or individual employees in order to be achieve common goals. This division of labour implies interdependence between work teams and individuals, for if the work associated with a team or individual is not done correctly or on time, other positions suffer. The division of labour also creates differing, and sometimes competing interests and priorities. Structural conflict is heightened by the scarcity of resources. Interpersonal conflict, on the other hand, is rooted in the differences in personalities, communication styles and values. Since these differences are usually the result of social groups influence, interpersonal conflict is magnified by social differences.
Conflict diagnosis is an essential step in trying to resolve conflict. If the conflict is not properly diagnosed, it can never be resolved. A sociogram, which displays information on the formal and informal relationships within a group, is a useful tool in diagnosing the type and root cause of conflicts in an organisation. Following the diagnosis, we would then be able to apply the correct actions or solutions for resolution and perhaps avoidance of the recurrence of the conflict.
Key sociogram terms are as follow:
Social network: a group of individuals linked in interaction
Cluster: subgroups of the social network
Prescribed clusters: formal groups defined by the greater system
Emergent clusters: informal groups not formally recognised by the system
Isolate: an individual not connected to any social network
Bridge: an individual who links clusters by being a member of each
Liaison: an individual who interacts with two or more clusters but is not a member
Star: an individual with many links in the system
Clique: an informal, relatively permanent subgroup
Coalition: a temporary subgroup
Below is an example to illustrate how a sociogram can be helpful in the diagnosis of organisational conflict.
In this example, there is interdepartmental hostility between the production (P) and accounting (A) department. The organisation chart is as shown:
The first thing we should ask ourselves is what is likely to happen if the Chief Operating Officer (COO) – the star in our case intervenes by issuing an edict of compliance, or worse, by taking one side or other. Even without further knowledge of the situation, we know that this would result in more conflict and polarize the parties further. If nothing is done, the system is likely to sustain the conflict. Hence, it is important for the COO to correctly diagnose the conflict before any negotiation. It is necessary to gather information to address the right problem, the actual cause of the conflict.
A sociogram of the relationships is presented below.
The sociogram shows the entire organisation as a social network. Production (P) and Accounting (A) are also social networks. P, A, and other departments are prescribed clusters. The Organisational Development (O) team is both a prescribed cluster and a coalition. Both G and W are bridges. To keep matters simple, the COO is the only star in our example. Through interviews and observations, we find that S, T, and B are close social friends who like each other and also enjoy working together. They constitute a clique and an emergent cluster, and they provide informal links between the departments in conflict. Thus, they are liaisons. Individuals G, W, S, T, and B are key sources of information for our diagnosis. It appears that they may have interests in resolving the conflict as well.
The personnel in the two conflicting departments may constitute emergent clusters. They have come to the consensus about the interdepartmental conflict and function outside of their formal role to sustain it. In this example, the organisational culture is competitive, with little interpersonal trust. Those aspects of the system perpetuate the conflict. The conflict presents itself as an interpersonal conflict between department members. A says that P is impossible and not a team player. P says that A does not do the job well and is extremely unpleasant to work with. However, we learn that the more acute causes are faulty perceptions and lack of knowledge. P did not receive the updated cost standards until a week into the last three weeks of production periods. P believes that A is purposely trying to cause P to fail, and the competitive culture feeds that perception. We also learnt that P withheld vital information from A that caused A’s cost report to be incorrect last month. P’s retaliatory chain reaction is an example of negative pattern development.
Before considering the diagnosis complete we would want to look at the interactions between the marketing (M), Legal (L) and Finance (F) department. We would look for coalitions related to the conflict that may exist outside of P and A. Further, we would investigate external interactions affecting the conflict and the organisation.
Lastly, we gather enough information to open communication between P and A to persuade them that the original late reports from A were solely due to lack of staff. Key members of A’s staff were detailed to a special task force. A prior systemic analysis would have disclosed this pending conflict in advance. The system, and probably the COO, helped to create and sustain the conflict by avoiding recognition of the true conflict, that is, dual tasking with inadequate staff (structural conflict).
With the example, we can clearly see how a sociogram can help diagnosing the proper type and cause of conflict in order for the conflict to be effectively resolved.
B. Corvette (2007). Conflict Management. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Prentice Hall.
American Management Association (n.d.). Conflict in Organisations. Retrieved from: http://www.flexstudy.com/catalog/schpdf.cfm?coursenum=90028