Models for Resolving Conflict in the Workplace
By Melissa McDowell, Kim Coleman,
Amy Raines, Wayne Seay, and Steve Sullivan
Causes of Conflict in the Workplace
Different Work Methods
Different Viewpoints or Perspectives
III. Effects of
Conflict in the Workplace
IV. Theories on
The Circle of Conflict
Conflict Resolution Model
Why Conflict Management is Important
How Big Corporations Deal with Conflict
Identify the Problem
Propose Several Possible Solutions
Evaluate Each Alternative
Determine the Best Solution
Implement the Alternative
Continually Evaluate the Solution
Strategies for Minimizing Conflict
Conflict, when properly
managed, is a positive source of
competitiveness and collaboration in a workplace.
On the other hand, when unmanaged, conflict
can create division, low morale, and chaos in the same environment.
Executives and managers must learn to identify constructive conflict and
manage it effectively. Conversely, leadership must identify negative
conflict and deal with it decisively and completely.
For leaders to manage conflict effectively,
they must understand all aspects of it. Identifying the causes and
exploring the effects of conflict is critical. Fortunately, managers
can adopt strategies for minimizing conflict and learn useful ways to
arrive at solutions by observing conflict management practices in
successful corporations. Understanding and identifying the sources of
conflict as well as positive and negative aspects of conflict is
the first step to good leadership.
Conflict in the Workplace
All managers and
executives at some time have had to deal with conflict. The way that
each one handles discord is a determining factor of success. Initially,
he or she must communicate to gain a clear understanding of what is
actually causing the conflict. Rebecca Hastings explains the need for
communication in the workplace in “Conflict Management Contributes to
Communication.” Hastings states that most conflicts stem from poor
communication in which one party misinterprets the words or actions of
another party. She notes that communication problems are particularly
exaggerated when departments are competing for resources or when they
have unique subcultures.
A critical step in
solving conflict is for managers to understand that communication is one
of its roots (Hastings). With that in mind, Hastings addresses some of
the key issues that can trigger conflict.
Different work methods
have the same goal but different approaches for achieving it. Neither
employee’s approach may be incorrect, nor may one approach be less
productive than the other may. As Hastings notes, the ownership of the
approach, or idea, is what gives each employee pride. When approaches
collide, a simple step toward resolution is for managers to encourage
employees to develop more fully their approaches. Next, managers should
ask employees to propose their respective plans and review them as a
group. According to Hastings, employees will find that often a
combination of the approaches is actually the best solution.
organizations, separate business units may drive towards different
goals. For example, the goal of a security controls department is to
ensure the security of the corporation and its customers. This goal
often affects performance and work output to other business units, such
as one that focuses on generating revenue. As an executive or manager,
it is imperative that goals be set at the corporate level and fully
communicated to all areas of business. Jeff Weiss and Jonathan Hughes
write, “One of the most effective ways senior managers can help resolve
cross-unit conflict is by giving people the criteria for making
trade-offs when the needs of different parts of the business are at odds
with one another” (96). Therefore, if executives and managers
communicate goals and criteria effectively, two things will happen in
this scenario. First, business units will understand the basic role and
importance of security. Second, security will understand how corporate
decisions impact revenue. Clearly, management can overcome differences
in goals through effective communication.
employees’ and managers’ personalities often are a source of issues.
People are sometimes annoyed by one another simply because of their
looks or actions. A person’s inherent biases are often contributing
factors. Because everyone has biased opinions, management should not
expend resources attempting to change them. However, avoiding
personality conflicts altogether can significantly affect productivity.
“When two team members don’t get along, they tend to exert a bare
minimum of effort on one another’s behalf. This has a negative effect
on your project, as well as on team morale” (Robinson). As a result,
effective leaders must understand employee biases and personality
differences and partner teams and individuals to maximize productivity.
Stress is a huge
motivator of conflict. Every employee has a breaking point, and every
employee will reach his or her breaking point at some time or another.
On a good day, employees can let issues and differences roll off their
backs. However, as stress from home and work deadlines collide, often
tempers will flare. “When increased stress levels are combined with
time pressures, good people reach the limits of composure and civil
behavior,” writes Anna Maravelas (23). With that in mind, leaders must
learn to recognize the warning signs of stress in each employee and
attempt to alleviate it. Offering employees something as simple as a
break or, in more severe cases, an afternoon off can go a long way
toward relieving work-related stress.
Different viewpoints or perspectives
perspectives are what give a business environment its edge. In fact,
“clashes between parties are the crucibles in which creative solutions
are developed,” write Weiss and Hughes (97). As a result, employers are
looking for diversity in people in order to ensure different
perspectives are considered. Leaders in this situation must carefully
and clearly listen to and understand the different perspectives. This
one area can be the trickiest for managers. Since managers also have
perspectives, often perspectives different
from their own are misunderstood or pushed aside. Managers and
leaders must remember that at least some of their employees will likely
have different perspectives.
Conflict in the Workplace
In addition to
understanding the causes of conflict, managers need to understand its
effects. The effects of conflict in the workplace are often wide
reaching and consuming. Further, they can be
useful and beneficial or destructive and damaging. Effective leaders
must differentiate between conflict that will boost productivity and
build stronger teams and conflict that will decrease output and hinder
teamwork. Clearly, managers must resolve conflict and channel it into
positive competition and collaboration.
One of the most damaging effects of workplace
conflict is the personal toll it takes on employees. Research clearly
shows that employees routinely take their work home with them. A recent
poll at Williams Energy asked 75 employees, “How often do you bring work
home with you?” Interestingly, 58% responded that they bring work home
with them weekly, 11% bring work home only monthly, and 10% bring work
home daily. In addition, 21% respondents said that they never bring
work home with them. When the poll asked the same 75 people how often
conflict and stress at home causes them to lose sleep or feel anxiety,
91% responded, “Often, at least weekly.” The results of these two polls
clearly show that employees take their work home with them a significant
amount of time.
While taking work home
has a damaging effect on employees, ineffectively managed conflict also
affects employees personally through:
Loss of sleep
Decreased job satisfaction
In addition to taking a
personal toll on employees, conflict also has adverse effects on the
workplace. Consider these benefits of managed conflict compared to the
damage resulting from “out of control” conflict:
Out of Control Conflict
Strengthens relationships and builds teamwork
Damages relationships and discourages cooperation
Encourages open communication and cooperative problem-solving
Results in defensiveness and hidden agendas
Resolves disagreements quickly and increases productivity
Wastes time, money and human resources
Deals with real issues and concentrates on win-win resolution
Focuses on fault-finding and blaming
Makes allies and diffuses anger
Creates enemies and hard feelings
Airs all sides of an issue in a positive, supportive environment
Is frustrating, stress producing and energy draining
Calms and focuses toward results
Is often loud, hostile and chaotic
“Managing Workplace Conflict” –
The importance of
managing conflict is evident. Reducing the negative effects and
increasing the positive impacts is critical in a balanced workplace.
Leaders must skirt the fine line of reducing conflict and allow conflict
to foster good results. Clearly, leadership must manage some conflict
to reduce its impact while allowing some conflict to remain unmanaged in
order to increase overall results.
*Concept by Steve Sullivan, Conflict
Management Team member
There are perhaps as many theories for
managing conflict as there are types of conflict. Ranging from formal
models to more simple problem-solving techniques, these theories offer
many creative approaches to resolving conflict in various settings.
Possibly the most important part of the conflict resolution process is
using the most appropriate resolution for the conflict at hand. To be
sure, using the wrong antidote to attempt to cure an ailment is a waste
of time and resources. The following overview of some conflict
management theories may aid in selection of the most effective
The Circle of
Author Gary T.
Furlong provides one of the most comprehensive sources for conflict
resolution models in his book The Conflict Resolution Toolbox: Models
& Maps for Analyzing, Diagnosing, and Resolving Conflict. The
Circle of Conflict is a model offered by Furlong and focuses on the
various causes, or drivers, of conflict. According to this model, the
six most common drivers of conflict are:
Values—one’s belief systems, ideas of right
versus wrong, etc.
Relationships—stereotypes, poor or failed
communications, repetitive negative behaviors, etc.
Externals/Moods—factors unrelated to the
conflict, psychological or physiological issues of parties in
Data—lack of information, misinformation, too
much information, data collection problems
Interests—each party’s wants, needs, desires,
fears, or concerns
Structure—limitations on resources like time
and money, geographical constraints, organizational structure,
authority issues (Furlong 30)
Furlong’s Circle of
Conflict resembles a pie graph divided into six equal parts in which
values, relationships, and externals/moods drivers appear in the top
half and data, interests, and structure drivers appear in the bottom
half of the graph (see figure below). The main premise of this model is
that conflict can be more easily resolved if discussions are focused on
drivers in the bottom half of the circle (data, interests, and
structure). According to Furlong, concentrating on these drivers—things
over which parties have some control—offers a more direct path toward
managing the dispute.
Furlong contends that
when conflicting parties allow their discussion to stray into drivers in
the top half of the circle (values, relationships, and externals/moods),
conflict will likely escalate. Because these drivers represent areas
that are not generally within a party’s control, it is best to avoid
them. Changing another’s perceptions of perceived past wrongs or
dealing with external issues would make any disagreement worsen.
Conversely, individuals in conflict can work together to change data
problems, allay another’s fears, and overcome geographical constraints.
These drivers are in the bottom portion of the circle of conflict,
where, according to Furlong, most of the real resolution work should
In his book,
Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni
presents another conflict resolution model. Lencioni’s model is a
series of concentric circles centered around a point of conflict (see
This model proposes four
different types of obstacles that prevent issues from being resolved.
According to Lencioni, the obstacles closest to the center of the
model—i.e., the issue—are the easiest barriers to overcome, with
obstacles becoming increasingly more difficult to overcome as one moves
outward from the center of the model. These barriers include:
Informational obstacles (circle closest to the issue or
conflict)—the easiest issues for most people to discuss; individuals
must exchange information, facts, opinions, and perspectives if they
want to move toward resolution.
Environmental obstacles (the next circle out)—the
atmosphere in which the conflict is taking place; the physical space,
office politics, individual moods, and company culture can all have an
effect on the resolution process.
Relationship obstacles (the next circle out)—issues
between the people involved in the conflict; prior unresolved legacies
or events among the parties, their reputation, or even position in the
organization may affect how people work through conflict.
Individual obstacles (the outermost circle)—issues that
are specific to each person in the conflict; individual experiences, IQ,
EQ, knowledge, self-esteem, and even values and motives all play a part
in causing and eventually resolving conflict (Lencioni 125).
Lencioni explains that
the key to this model is to understand that these obstacles exist during
discussions. When a conflict arises because of a particular obstacle,
the group should consider the model to decide whether to address the
issue. Lencioni contends that if parties choose not to address and
resolve an issue, they should agree not to let it affect their ability
to resolve the larger conflict.
Lencioni also states that
obstacles at the outside of the circle are more difficult to resolve,
largely because they involve personalities and other issues that are not
easy to change. In this way, this conflict resolution model resembles
Furlong’s Circle of Conflict model as they both reveal hot-button issues
managers should avoid when attempting to resolve conflict. Certainly,
the issues toward the outside of the circle in Lencioni’s model and
those in the top half of Furlong’s model are the most challenging.
Parties that are able to talk about these types of issues must trust
each other because doing so involves some type of personal risk (Lencioni
Clearly, the methods available to resolve conflicts are numerous. There
is certainly no right or wrong way to solve a problem. What is right
for one conflict may be wrong for another; it all depends on the
situation and variables involved.
two conflict resolution models presented here illustrate that conflict
most often happens when the emphasis is on differences between
people. In their book Dealing With People You Can’t Stand,
authors Dr. Rick Brinkman and Dr. Rick Kirschner cleverly describe it
this way, “United we stand, divided we can’t stand each other” (38). In
short, when people concentrate on what they have in common with one
another instead of their differences, relationships run smoothly and
conflict is significantly minimized.
Management Is Important
The plain and simple truth about
conflict is that it has both good and bad effects. The type of conflict
and its management determines a positive or negative outcome. If not
properly managed, conflict can be destructive and ruin employee
relationships. Unmanaged conflict can create bad feelings in people who
experience it as well as those who merely observe it (Royer).
Contrary to the common
belief that conflict is limited to a disruptive effect, a number of
researchers acknowledge substantial benefits. In fact, conflict can be
a driving force of change. When managed correctly, conflict produces
the following results: new ideas for changing organizations, solving of
continuous problems, a chance for workers to expand their capabilities,
and the introduction of creativity into thoughts about organizational
problems (Bowditch & Buono). With that said, managers and supervisors
must realize the importance of allowing constructive conflict. At the
same time, management must swiftly and effectively confront conflict
that is detrimental to the organization.
It is important to manage conflict,
especially in the workplace. Doctor Tony Fiore, a certified anger
management trainer and licensed psychologist, said, “The effects of
conflict in the workplace are widespread and costly. Its prevalence, as
indicated in three serious studies, shows that 24-60% of management time
and energy is spent dealing with anger. This leads to decreased
productivity, increased stress among employees, hampered performance,
high turnover rate, absenteeism at its worst, violence, and death”
Unmanaged and negative conflict has
human costs, economic costs, and organizational costs, contends Eric
Brahm. A doctor in the field of political science, Brahm suggests that
conflict costs organizations in many significant ways. “First, there
are the direct costs, including such things as fees paid to lawyers and
other professionals for their intervention. Second, conflict often has
significant productivity costs in terms of the value of lost time to the
organization. It diverts worker attention from normal duties.
Absenteeism often increases due to conflict. What is more, conflict
often reduces motivation and increases turnover. Third, conflict can
have continuity costs – namely, it can cause damage to ongoing
relationships that wrecks the feeling of community in organizations.
Fourth, conflict has emotional costs for those involved” (Brahm).
Clearly, it is imperative to manage
negative conflict in the workplace constructively. Poorly managed
conflict causes deteriorated employee and team performance levels,
reduced productivity, and interruptions in employee relationships
(Bowditch & Buono). Additional unfavorable impacts caused to
organizations are increased absenteeism and employee stress, high
turnover rates, and monetary losses associated with professional fees
such as attorneys and court costs. Lastly, it is important to mention
one important note about negative conflict and employees. Employees who
are overstressed and have peer relation problems at work oftentimes
carry those problems home. Negative conflict affects organizations,
but it ultimately carries over into
one’s home life.
Corporations Deal with Conflict
Large companies that
manage conflict effectively employ several strategies, including
negotiation, incrementalism, mediation, and effective communication.
Michelle Maiese describes negotiation as “a discussion between two or
more disputants who are trying to work out a solution to their problem”
(1). Further, she indicates negotiation “can occur at a personal,
corporate, or international (diplomatic) level.”
Parties usually negotiate
when they “wish to create something new that neither could do on his or
her own, or to resolve a problem or dispute between them” (Maiese 2).
Parties that negotiate typically “prefer to search for agreement rather
than fight openly, give in, or break off contact” (Maiese 1). When
dealing with conflict, large corporations negotiate by “swapping data
and trying to influence one another” in a process of give-and-take (Maiese
8). According to Maiese, corporations have a chance of resolving
conflict through negotiation as long as both sides project a willingness
Another strategy used by large
corporations to manage conflict is incrementalism, which involves
developing solutions over time. “It is almost impossible for one person
or even one group of people to come in and, in a relatively short period
of time, help the parties find a solution. Solutions need to be
developed slowly over a long time period, with many people working
independently and in concert, to bring about transformation of the
conflict from a destructive one to a constructive one, and eventually to
a resolved situation,” claims Heidi Burgess (1). Burgess suggests that
even when the overall conflict cannot be resolved, the situation will
improve incrementally. “These incremental steps will benefit small
parts of the conflict system immediately and eventually can work
together to facilitate the transformation of the wider conflict”
(Burgess, Burgess and Maiese).
A third strategy of large corporations
for conflict management is mediation. Christopher Honeyman and Nita
Yawanarajah describe mediation as “a non-adversarial process in which a
third-party neutral assists in resolving a dispute between two or more
other parties.” They claim the mediator’s role is “to facilitate
communication between the parties, assist them in focusing on the real
issues of the dispute, and generate options that meet the interests or
needs of all relevant parties in an effort to resolve the conflict.”
Mediation is a tool used within large corporations to resolve issues and
to assign responsibility for specific problems. It differs from
arbitration, “where the intermediary listens to the arguments of both
sides and makes a decision for the disputants,” as a mediator helps
parties “to develop a solution themselves” (Honeyman and Yawanarajah).
In short, “the mediator is primarily a ‘process person,’ helping the
parties define the agenda, identify and reframe the issues, communicate
more effectively, find areas of common ground, negotiate fairly, and
hopefully, reach an agreement” (Honeyman and Yawanarajah).
Another strategy used by large
corporations to manage conflict is effective communication. Donna
Bellafiore stresses the importance of effective communication as she
describes six critical steps for conflict resolution.
Bellafiore indicates that
the resolution process begins with a discussion “to understand both
sides of the problem.” In this stage, it is imperative that both sides
clearly define the outcomes they want. “Define the things that you both
agree on, as well as the ideas that have caused the disagreement. It is
important to listen actively to what the other is saying, use ‘I’
statements, and avoid blame” (Bellafiore).
several possible solutions.
Bellafiore describes the
second stage as “the brainstorming phase” during which “the points that
everyone agrees on and the shared goals” are communicated. During
brainstorming, parties record any potential approaches to the problem
they can envision without considering the feasibility of the ideas.
“Aim toward quantity of ideas rather than quality during this phase, and
let creativity be your guide,” advises Bellafiore.
Bellafiore suggests then analyzing each
approach to the problem one by one, “considering the pros and cons of
the remaining solutions.” She recommends that parties repeat the
process “until the list is narrowed down to one or two of the best ways
of handling the problem.” Bellafiore stresses the importance of honesty
at this phase and cautions that solutions will likely involve
Determine the best solution.
Bellafiore encourages parties to choose the
most mutually acceptable solution, even if it is not perfect for either
party. “As long as it seems fair and there is a mutual commitment to
work with the decision, the conflict has a chance for resolution,” she
Implement the alternative.
the alternative, parties should first “agree on the details of what each
party must do,” writes Bellafiore. In addition, they should determine
“what to do in case the agreement starts to break down” (Bellafiore).
Continually evaluate the solution.
Bellafiore suggests that managers should view
conflict resolution as an ongoing process. “Make it a point to ask the
other person from time to time how things are going. Something
unexpected might have come up, or managers may have overlooked some
aspect of the problem. Your decisions should be seen as open to
revision, as long as the revisions are agreed upon mutually” (Bellafiore).
Clearly, conflict among coworkers is
impossible to eliminate. However, many managers recognize key
strategies that can successfully minimize the negative effects of
conflict in the workplace.
Managers who respect their employees
are more likely to gain the respect of their employees. Likewise,
companies that claim respect as a corporate value will reinforce it
through corporate practices. Anna Maravelas illustrates the critical
role of respect in conflict resolution in the following scenario. Hours
of constant dissension had left executives exhausted and disconnected
(203). Then a mediator stepped in and asked them to share things they
respected about one another. As they did so, positive energy replaced
negativity, building a platform of conflict resolution that transcended
“pettiness and irritability” (204-205).
guru W. Edwards Deming touches on the relationship between conflict and
respect when he calls for the elimination of numerical quotas to measure
a day’s work. Deming found that where quotas exist, peer pressure and
animosity become prevalent among coworkers as people take a back seat to
numbers. Further, he found that when managers ask employees to solve
problems—such as finding ways to save the company money—instead of
imposing mandatory quotas, they experience different results. In short,
employees express “enhanced feelings of loyalty and pride in their
company [as] their ideas [are] accepted” (Walton 79). Clearly, “a
system that fosters an atmosphere of receptivity and recognition is far
preferable to one that measures people by the numbers they turn out” and
is less likely to incite conflict (Walton 79).
Communicating expectations can affect
employees at several levels. If managers fail to communicate
expectations effectively through job descriptions and delegation,
employees will likely overlook important tasks. Thus, “assuming
somebody else is taking care of something” is a surefire way to incite
conflict, says communications consultant Bob Gemignani (Weinstein).
Margery Weinstein suggests that to conquer conflict, managers must
“clearly communicate work priorities and responsibilities.” In
addition, effective managers must “provide feedback on how well
employees follow through” (Weinstein). Likewise, managers should
solicit feedback from employees. “To manage
conflict effectively you must . . . create an open communication
environment . . . by encouraging employees to talk about work issues”
Not only is
communicating expectations important for resolving task and
interpersonal conflict, but it is also an integral part of leadership
training (Stevens). In essence, communicating “information, goals, and
expectations leads to trust and confidence” (Stevens). Clearly,
communicating expectations can minimize conflict by clearing up
misconceptions about task roles and instilling trust and confidence in
According to Craig Stevens, the force a
company exerts to solve problems is found in a critical combination of
teamwork and communication. Further, each individual on a team should
replicate the team in terms of “team mission, team goals, and team
agenda” (Stevens). When conflicts arise, the individuals no longer
share “the same personal mission, goals, and agenda” (Stevens).
Deming illustrates how the breakdown in
teamwork fosters conflict in “the parable of the shoes” (Walton 74-75).
Deming sets the story in a shoe factory where technicians developed a
revolutionary product for which sales staff received thousands of
orders. Because the designers and sales staff failed to consult the
manufacturing department, the company was unable to fulfill orders. As
a result, customers were alienated because “departments [had] different
goals and [did] not work together as a team to solve problems” (Walton
Weinstein attests to the value of
teamwork. “Employees should be able to go to a team meeting rife with
disagreement and emerge ready to unanimously support the team’s final
decision,” she writes. Clearly, effective teamwork reduces conflict in
Empowering the workforce can help
minimize conflict as it makes people part of the solution when problems
arise. As people become empowered, they begin to develop “an ownership
attitude” in which they see conflict resolution as directly affecting
their own bottom lines (Hersey, Blanchard, and Johnson 223). Like
teamwork, the process of empowerment closely ties to communication. As
a result, companies that “share the secrets . . . what is really
happening” take a critical step toward empowering people (Hersey,
Blanchard, and Johnson 223).
Corporations that treat people as
partners tend to more openly discuss a conflict, which leads to a more
creative atmosphere. Because “creativity and learning require . . .
seeing and doing things in new ways,” people are more apt to interject
new ideas in an environment where differences are accepted (Perlow 5).
In addition, as people are empowered in their decision-making, their
work becomes more motivating. As a result, they are more “committed to
their work” and are more apt to work through conflicts on their own
(Schwarz 328). Clearly, empowering people can help managers minimize
Dealing with conflict in the workplace
may be the most important function that leadership must learn to handle.
As a result, effective conflict management is the staple of good
leadership. Because conflict management is quickly becoming the most
critical and time-consuming aspect of management, managers must be
prepared. With the right understanding and the right decisions,
managers are equipped to channel all conflict in the workplace into
constructive conflict. Clearly, conflict—both positive and negative—is
here to stay. However, armed with the techniques and understandings
outlined above, managers can use conflict as a tool. Addressing
conflict in the workplace is no longer a task to be avoided. Instead,
leaders can embrace conflict as the mark of a productive workplace
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Keys to Successful
Leadership during Times of Conflict and/or Change
and Psychological Effects of Workplace Conflicts
Booker, Pamela Cohea, Chris Cook, and Janine Helton (TNU 2007)
Human beings are fascinating and
individualistic creatures. Everyday these extraordinary creatures come
together in the workplace to earn a living for their very existence. As
a result, work related conflict becomes a normal part of human
interaction. However, some people do not handle stress as well as
others. Our society and the health care industry are beginning to
realize the effects of conflict stress. Researchers are examining the
correlation between workplace stress and its effect on the well being of
employees. Stress can have a negative impact on people’s lives and
health. Therefore, conflicts can escalate into disturbing situations
for individuals. This can cause serious health problems. This article
is about workplace conflicts and the effect it can have on one’s health.
Conflict in the Workplace
Conflicts at work can arise daily.
Some of the root causes for employee stress are the distribution of job
assignments, the administration of processes and procedures throughout
the work environment, meeting work deadlines, and team member
interactions. One of the greatest stress factors is caused when an
employee thinks that he/she has been treated unfairly. Employers need
to be aware of their responsibilities and roles in creating stressful
situations within the workplace. Managers need to be fair and
consistent when dealing with every employee. They need to set a tone of
organizational openness and trust that will help to alleviate problems.
Research on the Topic
Researchers have begun to study the
correlation between conflicts in the workplace and employee well being.
Some companies are looking to develop Stress Risk Assessments and
Workplace Health Programs for their employees. The article,
“Association of Chronic Work Stress, and Psychiatric Disorders,”
published by a group of British doctors, explains the evaluation
process. The first step in each of the programs is to administer a
short questionnaire to employees. The questionnaire allows the
management of the organization to learn more about their specific stress
factors. After the completion of the questionnaires, researchers are
able to analyze the data. This information allows them to identify
individuals with high potential for stress related problems within their
organization. Such questionnaires should include a process to measure
employee perceptions of jobs, organizational commitment, and overall
health. Once the data is collected, researchers can identify ways to
improve stressful situations within the workplace. These methods have
allowed some organizations to develop initiatives to address sources and
symptoms of job stress (1).
Dr. Carol Dewa believes that there is a
link between psychiatric disorders and work-related stress (1). She
conducted a study in Canada to test this theory. The study included
22,118 working respondents from the Canadian Community Health Group.
The results showed that thirty-one percent of respondents experienced
chronic work stress. This stress led to at least one chronic physical
or psychiatric disorder among those affected. Study conclusions showed
the presence of chronic work stress appears to amplify the effects of
other disorders. The study also found that workplace related anxieties
are often associated with sick leave requests (1). As a result,
excessive absenteeism abounds and negatively affects the overall
productivity of the organization.
Successful Ways to implement Team Problem
The first thing that an
organization should do is to create a Problem Solving Team. The
team should include members of management and those employees directly
working in day-to-day organizational operations. The people who do the
work are the most knowledgeable about problems within their work area.
Listed are steps a team can take in identifying and addressing stress
producing problems within any organization.
Identify the problem.
Identify the factors that create or contribute
to the problem (brainstorming).
Conduct investigations into the direct causes.
Conduct fact-finding surveys and time studies.
Analyze data and create a summary report.
Conduct team meetings with employees,
communicate the findings, and introduce the action plan for
Organizations need to recognize that
workplace stress can have a negative impact on the health and well being
of their workforce. Likewise, managers need to be aware of situations
that cause conflict and stress. They must learn techniques and skills
necessary to manage these scenarios successfully. The results will be
beneficial to both organizations, as well as employees. Studies have
shown that happy and content employees are productive and creative
allowing them to be the best in their business.
In light of this
information, how do organizations produce content employees who are
productive and creative? How can leaders harness such human resources
and use them to create strong teams? Authors, Craig A. Stevens and
Michael Moore, have written a fictional story that answers such
questions. Their book, Geronimo Stone: His Music, His Love, and the
Mobile of Excellent Management, contains many management principles
practical for real life application.
Stevens serves as President, and Moore
as Vice President of Marketing, at the Westbrook Stevens consulting
firm. Together they bring to their work, years of business management
expertise, and a passion for teaching. As stated in their book, Stevens
has taught extensively on both the undergraduate and graduate levels.
Additionally, he has “worked with every level of management” in
“organizations of every size” (167). Likewise, Moore possesses much
expertise, and has extensive experience in the music industry. Among
many accomplishments, he has received recognition for “motivating
successful teams and imaginative problem solving” (168). In this
literary collaboration, the authors have pooled their expansive business
knowledge. What results, is a book useful for leaders in all fields.
In Geronimo Stone,
the main character, Tommy Stone, faces the challenge of saving his late
uncle’s music company. Tommy has long realized the business is
vulnerable due to his uncle’s shortsighted management philosophy. Upon
the death of its’ dynamic leader, the weakened organization becomes the
target of a hostile takeover attempt. As the story unfolds, Tommy
learns that his late uncle had realized, too late, the secrets of
successful management. It now falls to him to implement the new
management plan and save his family’s business.
“The Mobile of Excellent Management”
The original ideas of Dr. Jerry
Westbrook are the basis for the secrets of successful management
highlighted in the book (162). With these ideas expounded upon, Craig
A. Stevens uses them to create the story’s pivotal management model.
Stevens titles his model, “The Mobile of Excellent Management.”
Structured as a hanging model, successful management finds balance under
the hand of effective leadership. After examination of the model, one
discovers that Stevens emphasizes seven key management attributes. They
are: leadership, culture, customer focus, team building, problem
solving, continuous improvement, and performance measures. The
following graphic illustrates how these attributes find support and
balance within the management framework.
The model suggests that leadership
plays a profound role in successful management. As twenty-first century
companies are increasingly required to face changes of every kind,
adaptable leaders are indispensable. In their text, Management of
Organizational Behavior, Paul Hersey, Kenneth H. Blanchard, and
Dewey E. Johnson explore the face of modern management theory. They
suggest that, “leadership and management of organizations have never
been more challenging” (1). Further, they assert, “leaders must be able
to diagnose, adapt, and communicate… in order to meet the needs of a
rapidly changing and challenging world” (6). Stevens and Moore describe
leaders as able “to empower organizational structures that lead the
company to success” (29).
Team Building and Problem Solving
One of the most vital functions a
leader performs is the building of strong employee work teams.
Successful leaders recognize that an organization’s pool of human
resources is its’ most important asset. Ken Hendrix, CEO of ABC Supply,
has used this belief to create enormous success for his company. When
Hendrix takes over a new venture, he strives to maintain the existing
workforce. In Maria Bartiromo’s article in the September 2007 issue of
The Reader’s Digest, Hendrix describes his philosophy. He states:
“It’s a fact that
employees have a lot to offer. When I buy a business – and this is a
business that might be failing – I talk to the forklift operator or the
warehouse guy. I’ll say, ‘If you were running this business, what would
you do?’ And he tells me ninety-five percent of what has to be changed
for that business to be successful” (72-73).
This commitment to team
building is also found in Stevens’ book within the “Mobile of Excellent
Management.” Geronimo Stone states, “We have known since time
began that people working together get more done than people working
alone” (86). Recognizing that well-led teams help to create strong
organizations is important to effective management. So is learning the
secrets of problem solving in order to maintain team strength. Stevens
and Moore describe this management step as the “tool box” of the work
team (99). They explain, “think of problem-solving in the broader sense
as the skills and core competencies needed to do a good job” (102).
Naturally, a team with superior problem solving skills will translate
into a more effective and happier workforce. Managers who seek to build
such skills will ultimately be reducing workplace conflict and employee
As Mary Walton suggests in
The Deming Management Method, many companies become weak by
bearing the everyday concerns of business. This focus on the immediate
prevents them from adequately investing in the company’s long-range
future (55). As a result, employees are less secure. Conversely,
Walton suggest, “When employees are working for a company that is
investing for the future, they will feel more secure and less likely to
look for jobs in companies that appear more promising” (55). By
applying the management principles taught in Geronimo Stone,
managers will be helping to strengthen their companies for the future.
As Ken Hendrix has
discovered, highly competent employees who possess excellent problem
solving skills are extremely beneficial. Such empowered employees share
with management a vision that enables a company to succeed. The book,
The Search for Meaning in the Workplace by Thomas H. Naylor,
William H. Willimon, and Rolf Osterberg, examines the concept of
employee empowerment. The authors quote Peter Block, saying,
“Empowerment embodies the belief that the answer to the latest crisis
lies within each of us and therefore we all buckle up for the adventure”
(154). This attitude, corporally shared, creates a sense of teamwork
that goes far in building workplace security. Consequently, secure
employees are both creative and productive. Once empowered, they are
able to excel to become exemplary within their fields.
intelligently managing teams leads to many positive results. Among them
are the adoption of a shared vision, greater potential for future
success, and the creation of an empowered workforce. Just as the
fictional Tommy Stone discovered, real life managers must learn to
implement effective management principles. In doing so, their companies
will become stronger and their employees will be content.
Human Behavior in the
order to implement effective management principles, managers need an
understanding of human behavior within workplace settings. Experts
define organizational behavior as an academic discipline concerned with
describing, understanding, predicting, and controlling human behavior in
an organizational environment. The field is particularly concerned with
group dynamics, how individuals relate to and participate in groups, how
leadership is exercised, how organizations function, and how change is
effected in organizational settings (Gale 1).
In years past, the
organizational environment was structured and demanding. It has now
changed to an environment that listens to and understands the needs of
employees. To gain better understanding, early contributors Douglas
McGregor, Chris Argyris, and Rensis Likert enhanced the theory of
behavior. They researched various avenues in which to recognize
employee performance as it relates to business. The work of these
scholars forged the discipline of organizational behavior, as we know it
today. Douglas McGregor, the creator of “Theory X” and “Theory Y,”
assumed that “Theory X” people were lazy. Such people, he believed,
possessed personal goals that ran counter to the organization’s goals.
As a result, he concluded that managers had to control people through
external factors. In an organization, this meant close supervision and
guidance so that management could ensure high performance. The “Theory
Y” philosophy made assumptions based on greater trust in others. This
theory held the belief that human beings were more mature,
self-motivated and self-controlled than “Theory X” assumed (Hersey,
Blanchard, and Johnson 60). Chris Argyris also made a strong case for
reducing the amount of organizational control. He believed constraints
of organizational structure on people were self-defeating to
organizational goals of effectiveness and efficiency. Rensis Likert
proposed that managers would be most effective using a supportive
approach. This meant creating a work environment in which the
individual sees their experiences in terms of their values, goals,
expectations, and aspirations. Such an environment would contribute to
and maintain an employee’s sense of personal worth and importance (Bence
order for organizational behavior to be successful, one must also review
the behaviors associated with groups. Group behavior entails various
concepts associated with team development and the behaviors associated
with this process. The main factors in team development involve the
importance of rapport, trust, and etiquette. When these elements are
absent, conflict tends to arise. The conflict perspective focuses on
forces in society that promote competition and change. Assumptions are
that conflict in society happens over competition for limited
resources. Social change is an expected feature of conflict in
society. Such conflict occurs as groups with differing degrees of power
compete for scarce resources. Power itself may also be a scarce
resource. Inequalities of race, gender, class, or age can all result in
power inequities and conflict. People possessing power attempt to
preserve their privilege to benefit themselves and protect their status
Additionally, within small group interactions, conflict may take place
due to personality clashes, resistance to change, and many other
factors. Left unchecked, these factors have the potential to keep the
team from achieving success. Studies have shown that personality
differences seem to be the common denominator that creates team member
conflict. People are more than willing to cite examples of how
personalities have affected team performances. These examples reveal
themselves in two ways. First, how personalities have made life in an
organization unbearable and, secondly, how one has contributed to an
enjoyable experience (Ratzburg 1). To avoid these types of clashes,
organizations should impose development interventions. Interventional
plans help to increase awareness of sources of conflict, and increase
diversity awareness and skills. Such plans may lead to changes such as
job rotation, temporary assignments, permanent transfers, and dismissal
if needed (Bulleit 10).
As a manager, it is
imperative to identify certain behaviors within the work environment and
within teams. Understanding organizations and their effective
functioning requires the development of a comprehensive view of human
behavior. Possessing a strong knowledge of organizational behavior is
an asset that will prepare employees for leadership roles. Such
knowledge is essential for meeting the challenges and uncertainty that
confront today’s organizations.
The Drivers of Change
Perhaps one of the most
challenging problems organizations face today is how to effectively
handle workplace change. Most people are content within their comfort
zones and tend to rely on the status quo. That is, until management
introduces sweeping changes through downsizing or rightsizing. Such
changes are likely to rattle the foundations of operating procedures.
They are necessary, however, in order to bring about a more effective
and efficient organization. This particularly relates to the
organization’s bottom line.
Linked Management Model Phase III,
“Understanding the Drivers of Change”
An organization's internal
environment is comprised of its systems and its people. The structure of
the organization's activities, interactions, and sentiments are always
subject to what constitutes a change. In this regard, change is either
an act or a process. Any change in activities, interactions, or
sentiments will produce some change in the other two as well (Westbrook
Stevens 3). There can be changes to an organization's external
environment, which do not necessarily relate to a change of staff,
management, or procedures. International and domestic events can
produce cause and effect relationships to the drivers of change.
Likewise, so can government restrictions and regulations. There are
always driving and restraining forces in an evolving organization that
relate to possibilities of change. These forces can clash and cause
Below is Craig A. Steven's
diagram of Phase 3 of The Linked Management Models.
“Conflict can be viewed as
a difference in perspectives” (Fernandez 1). No two individuals are
likely to see any one thing the same way. As a result, conflict and
tension can naturally arise at times. Especially, if one individual
sees the need for change and the other is content with the status quo.
There are two views of conflict. One is the traditional view that
conflict is bad and people should avoid it. The other is the human
relationship view that believes that conflict is natural. This view
maintains that embracing diversity is healthy, but only when energy and
creativity remain properly harnessed. Perhaps, based on a contingency
theory, both views are correct at the appropriate time. It is the
unhealthy conflict that one should avoid.
It is not always healthy
or good to be in continuous conflict. Even when conflict is beneficial
for generating creativity, too much of a good thing is too much indeed.
The following are ways of preventing and managing conflict:
Help the team focus on the task and stay on track.
Be mindful of other people's styles.
Make suggestions on how to proceed
Ask questions to clarify expectations, issues, and
possible directions to take
Help find needed resources
Provide constructive feedback.
Help team members plan how to implement their agreement.
Help team members evaluate their efforts and make needed
Set ground rules for discussion
Teach reflective listening skills to team members.
Teach meditation skills.
simply means that one party wins, and the other party loses. Today
there are many wrongs in every right and vice-versa. The following are
suggested principles for negotiation that foster a “win-win” solution:
View participants as problem solvers.
Separate the people from the problems.
Be soft on the people, hard on the problem.
Focus on the interests, not on positions or the bottom
Help participants create multiple options for mutual gain.
Use objective criteria.
Reason and be open to reason; yield to principles, not to
Team Problem Solving Modes
characteristics that set them apart from other teams. Any work team may
have its own rituals and traditions that make it a unique work unit.
These characteristics are much like family characteristics. They
establish cohesiveness and group identity. “Just as leaders have styles
- so do teams have modes or patterns of behavior as perceived by
others.” (Hersey, Blanchard, Johnson 328).
There are four
problem-solving modes for various group situations. First, there is the
Crisis Mode. In the Crisis Mode, a team is facing a situation that
requires significant amounts of task behavior. There should be plenty
of what, when, where, and how information. Due to the need for this
kind of information, there is not much room for relationship behavior.
Behaviors, such as discussion, take a back seat. The very nature of
crises makes this the best approach for problem solving. The danger is
that many organizations treat every situation as if it is a crisis.
(Hersey, Blanchard, Johnson 328)
The second problem-solving
mode is the Organizational Problem-Solving Mode. When in this mode,
high amounts of both task and relationship behaviors are needed.
Leaders must place considerable emphasis on structuring team activities
and motivating team members. (Hersey, Blanchard, Johnson 329). They
should also spell out tasks, ask members for ideas, and encourage
conversation in order to assure a productive team meeting.
Problem-Solving Mode is a high relationship-low task approach. After a
problem presents, cliques develop that serve to disrupt the team.
Employing strong relationship behaviors helps to increase interaction of
all team members. (Hersey, Blanchard, Johnson 329).
In the Routine Procedural
Mode, “emphasis is on getting the job done through performing the
assigned roles with a minimum of structuring activities and socio
emotional support.” There is low task and relationship behavior in this
mode. An experienced cohesive team can always accomplish its mission
effortlessly in this mode. It only comes down to who does what.
(Hersey, Blanchard, Johnson 329).
New Training Programs and Techniques for
Individuals and Groups
A diverse workforce,
characterized by organizational drivers of change, is drawing attention
to interpersonal conflicts among workers. Teams do not always work
effectively, and change may not accomplish everything intended.
“According to a recent Accountemps survey, executives spend more than
nine weeks each year resolving personality clashes between
employees.”(Brown 1). Such clashes undermine morale. Competition and
complex communication barriers create conditions that generate the need
for new training and employee development. “Conflict management is the
ability to manage every-day situations that involve personal
interactions involving difference of opinion. It differs from conflict
resolution, where successful resolution means that the issue is totally
resolved and finished.” (Brown 1).
Aside from methods of
arbitration or involvement of costly legal action, conflict mediation
moves toward worker empowerment. This involves using the services of a
mediator, such as, a human resource professional. Training for all
employees that includes conflict resolution is available and popular
Casey and Casey suggest
self-esteem training to aid in the process of conflict management. They
also suggest the use of drama and role-play to engage learners in
clarifying the issues. This helps in constructing solutions to conflict
situations (Brown 1). Audience participation in conflict resolution is
also used. “Other techniques include using posters to promote conflict
resolution, detailing ways to handle anger, engaging in active
listening, and practicing “win-win” strategies.”
If employees do not have
the skills to work in teams, teamwork can become disastrous. Modern
training is most popular with sales staffs and project managers, but
applies to all situations. The types of modern classes available are as
Team member training.
Team leader training.
Databased team oriented problem solving.
Effective meeting management skills.
There are a number of
various methods for training. The most popular methods are as follows:
Problem solving real world situations
Experimental learning exercises.
Group interactive discussions.
Electronic collaboration process.
In today’s rapidly changing workplace
environments, conflict and change are formidable challenges to meet.
Both have the potential to greatly impact an organization’s workforce,
and, ultimately, its bottom line. Managers must possess an
understanding of human behavior and an ability to create healthy, secure
work environments. They must also be able to meet the needs of
individual employees, while still achieving organizational goals.
Exemplary leaders understand that excellent management principles are
vital for keeping pace in a rapidly changing world. They know these
principles are the tools that help to create empowered employees and
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