Employee Conflict When employees having problems relating and working together, the best course of action is to talk with each employee to find out the cause of the problems. While it takes two (or more) to create communication problems, it takes only one to start it. A supervisor dealing with employee communication problems needs to find out what's (1) triggering the problems and (2) what's keeping them alive, so he can deal with each one accordingly. Team Conflict A team experiencing communication problems is no longer effective working toward a common goal. Misalignment, mistrust, argumentative behavior, defensiveness are symptoms that the team is no longer functional. Addressing communication problems in a team is a bit more complex than addressing problems between two employees. A team that is having communication problems may be the bellwether for the organization as a whole. Or it could be just a bad mix of personalities. The manager has first to determine why the team is having problems and then apply corrective measures as appropriate. Organizational Conflict Conflict in the workplace can expand beyond employees and teams to include the entire organization. While uncommon, it can happen if the causes that lead to communication problems are left unmanaged. Some people may start taking sides and an overall climate of distrust settles in. Others will disengage or leave the organization altogether. The organization has hit bottom. Multiple bosses can be confusing. Sometimes it makes sense to have several people share the leadership position. For instance, when the two founders retired from their highly collaborative architectural firm, three people assumed the CEO job. They call themselves the 3EO's. In their culture, it works. In most others, it doesn't. For example, one of my clients stepped into a new job at a technical company. He is the Director of over 100 specialists, working three shifts. The group had been leaderless for some time, due to the illness of the former Director. When we looked at some of the people problems he inherited, it became evident that some of the problems stemmed from the way the organization was structured: all 100 people reported to all four managers. In other words, each technician had four bosses, depending on who was around. Some of the employees played one manager against the other, policies were not consistently applied, power plays between the managers were a regular occurrence and the resulting dysfunction hampered their effectiveness. Structure by purpose—not necessarily by specialty. People trained in a specialty often have a strong identity with their profession. When this focus is the primary criterion for how they structure themselves within a business, it can have a negative affect on outcomes. For example, a 40-person department was organized into 20 teams, comprised of two people each. One of each pair had training in a specialty I'll call "A" and the other person was trained in "B." Each "AB" team was assigned to work on a medical unit in a hospital. There were two supervisors, one trained in A and one trained in B. The teams were complaining of poor communication, inconsistency and a host of other problems. A closer look at some of the root causes revealed that the structure was part of the problem: Each member of the two-person team reported to a different supervisor. Since the team's purpose is to work together to serve the unit, both parties needed to report to one person, in order to get clear, consistent expectations, resolve problems quickly and simplify communications. When structuring an organization, how your customer uses your services should "trump" orderly internal efficiency. If you've ever called a company with a complaint or a question, and been passed from department to department, with no resolution, you can bet their internal structure is partly to blame. Customers want one-stop shopping—we want to call one person and have that person figure out how to get our needs met. For example, in one organization the Human Resources Department was getting bad marks from the rest of the company for the service they provided. Among other things, internal customers complained that calls weren't being returned, requests took weeks and policies didn't fit their needs. We reorganized HR and created generalist "consultants." Each department in the company was assigned a consultant. This consultant was their point person, who got to know their needs and helped them with such basics as recruiting and employee relations, and tapped into the experts back in HR for more specialized help with things such as compensation and benefits. So, the next time you have a "people problem" take a look at the underlying structure. It may be the cause no one thought of. Conflict resolution Step 1: Managing the conflict at hand now. When the problem is between two or three people, conflict management can be done by the immediate supervisor or manager of the people affected. When the manager is also part of the problem, an outside facilitator is invaluable. It's shortsighted to avoid bringing in outsiders to help sort out differences. The potential losses due to employee communication problems are huge. If the problem at hand has expanded to include a team or the organization as a whole, an outside facilitator is essential. Step 2: Managing its roots to prevent future conflict. Please refer to the chart above to explore the possible causes of conflict at work and ideas on how to address them. You can click on the area of your interest to read more about it. It's tempting to only do the first step in managing conflict: solving the communication problem at hand. But it's essential to take the time to complete the second step: dealing with the causes of the problem. Restore the peace at work and keep it that way for all to enjoy. If you want to learn more about dealing with conflict, here's a website that shares insights from the practice of Mediation - a process designed to promote effective communication and conflict resolution.
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