Conflict Within the Ranks: Diagnosing Sources of Conflict

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Conflict within an organization can not only damage morale but also cut into productivity and ultimately profits. Once you recognize that there is ongoing conflict in your organization, how do you go about diagnosing the source?

In his June 2004 article, “Divided, You’ll Fall: Managing Conflict Within the Ranks,” Lawrence Susskind describes the work done by the independent Consensus Building Institute (CBI) for a major investment firm.

The sales people in this firm were very upset to learn that in addition to national product managers, they would also be reporting to newly assigned regional managers. The sales staff was very concerned about the demands of reporting to two managers and the possibility of changes in their commissions based on the opinions of a new individual.

When seeking to resolve conflict within an organization Susskind argues that the first step is accurately identifying the sources of disputes. This involves getting all of the parties to agree on the sources and breadth of the problem.

In order to create a preliminary assessment of this firm’s problems the team met privately with national managers, regional managers, and experienced sales staff. To make sure all of the stakeholders found the assessment meaningful, the consultant emphasized benchmarks the new system would have to meet.

The consultant was encouraged by management to design a consensus-building process that alleviated tensions between the national and regional level employees. To ensure support for this new system the consultant obtained the endorsement of several key players in the company.

After being sure he had adequate support from upper management the consultant created a “map” of the existing conflict that contained the primary concerns of 15 key individuals he met with in the confidential individual interviews.

Finally, once all parties agreed that the map was accurate, the three national, regional, and sales staff met to clarify their interests and to elect three representatives each who could form the project’s task force.

The steps outlined above demonstrate the complexity involved in identifying the sources of conflict within an organization. However, without an adequate portrait of the sources of conflict, managers and external consultants will not be able to successfully develop systems to resolve existing conflicts and prevent future ones.

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