BUSINESS 101: Conflict 

Why can’t we all get along? Because we’re animals, meaning that conflict is inevitable as long as food, mates, and territory are limited. (In the case of humans, add money to that list.) These conditions are aggravated at work because the workplace is commonly a small, closed system where recognition, promotions, and raises are in great demand but extremely short supply. In other words, no matter how effective a firm’s leaders believe their management systems may be, people and their different personalities, ethics, and outlooks create situations that make it impossible to minimize conflict. NOT! In fact, effective management can reduce conflict, and – that being the case – one can surmise that employee conflict can be a sign of ineffective management, frequently associated with the following issues.

Centralized functions like HR, IT, and marketing can create conflicts because they put all the related resource eggs in one basket. Try to put enough eggs in the basket to meet all usual needs, or possibly consider an alternative or supplementary resource-distribution method.

Lack of accountability can leave people lost, resulting in finger-pointing, backstabbing, and other forms of conflict. (“She got the promotion I should have gotten, because….”) Lack of accountability commonly manifests itself when poorly defined objectives and/or metrics result in poorly constructed bonus, compensation, and promotion programs.

Shared or unclear responsibilities are blueprints for conflict. If responsibilities are to be shared, they must be clearly circumscribed: In fact, who is responsible for what? For that matter, any responsibility should be closely delineated, to help prevent people from stepping on one another’s toes.

Unstructured compensation and review systems are perennial conflict creators, because employees have little knowledge of: how they’re regarded by superiors, peers, and other coworkers; what they need to do to improve; the objectives management would like them to achieve in the upcoming months.Unstructured systems take on a veneer of structure by rewarding tenure rather than merit or embracing criteria that are vague and subject to interpretation, resulting in more exceptions than rules.

Overly structured compensation and review systems can be just as problematical, especially when their lack of flexibility prevents managers from recognizing rising stars by giving them a career ladder that helps them rise faster.

Poorly managed growth can create conflict when it results in an organization holding on to fundamental processes – like those associated with forecasting, operational and strategic planning, and budgeting – that worked well for the smaller organization that used to exist, but no longer does.

The “Peter Principle” holds that some people get promoted to a position they are not qualified for, and they stay in that position until they finally get it right. Which they usually never do. The result?Qualified individuals get stuck working for a boss or coworker they disrespect, creating conflicts between the qualified and the unqualified, as well as the decision-makers who, for whatever reason, are unwilling to replace the unqualified with those who are capable.