Software Quality

May 11, 2013

Process Conflict – a Manager’s role to resolve

Filed under: Management — David Allen @ 9:21 pm

In a workplace, conflict between people arises for many reasons.  It results in frustration and unhappiness for the people and poor performance for the organization.  In many cases, we expect employees to avoid and resolve conflict on their own. In those cases, managers are responsible for identifying when employees have trouble managing conflict and helping staff learn to resolve conflicts.

However, there are several cases in which the employees cannot reasonably be expect to resolve the conflict on their own. These are cases in which the manager must take an active part in the solution.  This article discusses one such source of conflict and how it can be easily remedied and prevented.  The source of human conflict described here is due to process conflicts. It has many possible causal factors and many possible solutions. A problem map of these factors is shown below.

For those unfamiliar with such diagrams, see the original problem map which includes tips on how to read one:  https://docs.google.com/document/d/1-lAxnXkcf3o2YnSL-clXo6xBmSW4b7UY4KClxq-He-o/edit?usp=sharing

In the cases shown in the problem map, the manager is often required to provide training or process changes in order to create an environment in which workers can work with less conflict. Without manager intervention, the conflicts become frustrating for the workers and may recur again and again.  It is not uncommon for employees to make unfair assumptions and think their colleague just has a “bad attitude” when in fact, they are simply operating by another process and those processes are in tension.

Managers who understand these problems and apply the solutions can continually adjust the policies to reduce conflict and make it easier for staff to work together.  Managers can go even further and teach these ideas to their staff so the staff can understand when a conflict is a process conflict. In such cases, they get less frustrated because they know that they can escalate the problem to their manager who will work with other managers to resolve the process tension.  Short-term solutions may be negotiating exceptions. Long-term solutions may involve  collaboration across departments. Such cross-departmental collaborations naturally require more effort and time than localized process changes that can be unilaterally decreed by a single manager.  In any case, it is unlikely that an organization will accidentally work in harmony without managers who continually and deliberately tune the processes for harmony.

Sources of interpersonal conflict at work

And of course, there is a rich body of literature on how to manage conflict among people in the general case. That is the first node in the diagram and you can seek out those resources for those issues. This brief article simply clarifies when process is the problem, a manager can solve it.

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