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Workplace conflict is one of the most critical and damaging concepts in modern businesses which consist of large, multicultural teams. This report seeks to investigate conflict management practices in the context of a telecommunications conglomerate Etisalat. Company description will be provided describing the size and focus of the corporation. Furthermore, conflict management principles and theory are explored to define the basic concepts which are relevant to the report.
A situational analysis is conducted to determine relevant issues in workplace conflict within Etisalat. A dispute settlement system is proposed and described in detail, later analyzed using a cost-benefit approach. Finally, the most optimal practices within the industry and general business are outlined. Conflict management serves as a vital component of modern management to achieve the prosperity and success of a company.
Etisalat is an international telecommunications conglomerate, serving more than 16 countries across the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. Founded in 1976, it is based in Abu Dhabi, UAE, and is one of the largest mobile network providers in the world. Considered the most powerful corporation in UAE, Etisalat maintains a market capitalization of AED 87.7 billion and has a customer base exceeding 160 million (Etisalat, n.d.).
Etisalat is known for a strong focus on its staff, particularly employee engagement and satisfaction. The company has won awards in recent years in innovation for employee engagement. However, this occurs not only due to the benefits and perks offered by the company, but a long-term comprehensive strategy that human resources have developed. The company attempts to build a relationship with the staff, by empowering them and providing opportunities to submit feedback or participate in the decision-making process. Engagement is stimulated through rewards programs and support for well-being programs. Etisalat attempts to create a culture of diversity, engagement, and excellence in its practices (Tuxford, 2018). This approach is relevant to all the company’s policies including conflict management as employee engagement and cooperation are significant as a preventive measure as well as establishing communication.
Conflict Theory and Principles
The concept of conflict is broad, encompassing different types of social interactions and relationships which can range from interpersonal to intragroup contexts. The three dimensions of conflict can be separated into content, relational, or situational. The content of the conflict can be either affective or cognitive. While effective conflict is based on thoughts and feelings, a cognitive one arises based on understanding and knowledge about an individual’s task or role.
The relational dimension seeks to describe the variables based on the relationship of the parties including trust, status, and degree of interdependence. Finally, the situational dimension includes concepts such as time pressure, the degree of escalation, the impact of conflict, and options available for resolution (Speakman & Ryals, 2009). This dimension is most applicable for the selection and application of a relevant organizational conflict management strategy.
The modern theory considers conflict as an inevitable consequence of human interaction. It is practically necessary to generate innovative ideas and create positive change. Before considering conflict management, it is critical to understand the stages of conflict instigation. These include latent, conflict, perception, personalization, conflict manifestation, consequence, and solution based on a model by Louis Pondy. Another model by Kenneth Thomas labels the stages as frustration, conceptualization, behavior, and consequence. Nevertheless, for both, the conflict process is a loop that must be resolved to reduce negative consequences. In modern companies, macro-management of conflicts can be used as a constructive dimension that contributes to organizational learning. A proper conflict management process consists of diagnosis, intervention, conflict, and learning that leads to feedback (Spaho, 2013).
The telecommunications sector is expanding to include various partners and management strategies combined under one firm. Therefore, addressing conflicts can be challenging since disputes can range from being highly technical to community focused rights that have roots in sociological perspectives. Theorists such as Vroom discuss decision-making processes based on contingencies, highlighting factors of quality decisions and acceptance.
Internal contingencies can include structural or management outputs, while external contingencies depend on economic, technological, and environmental factors. Conflict resolution should take these contingencies into account when applying it in practice. Dispute resolution can be approached from interest-based, rights-based, and power-based perspectives (“Theoretical framework,” n.d.). In the telecom sector, a combination of these approaches is used for strategies to secure desired outcomes.
As Etisalat is rapidly expanding, its workforce is increasing as well. There has been a trend in internal conflicts amongst employees as there is now greater competition for promotion. Furthermore, rapid expansion can cause consequences such as insufficient training and a lack of adequate leadership qualifications in managers. There is an inherent tension amongst departments and teams working on a project, resulting in decreased productivity and shifting deadlines.
Managers do not have the influence or power of authority to resolve the conflicts between departments, lacking respect from team members of stakeholders. Finally, employees experience difficulty and conflict in working together. Instead of valuing differences and attempting conflict resolution, they are competing and complaining, potentially leading to teams that are dysfunctional or broken up. Employees are manipulated and punished, with instances of pressure for abuse and overworking (Naqi, n.d.).
Etisalat does not have any conflict resolution guidelines available for open access. However, the company does seek to offer strategies to its managers through courses in its academy. The company’s commitment to creating high-performance teams includes conflict resolution as a critical component that should be addressed. Conflict is inevitable on most teams, but those that successfully use the disagreement to their advantage. Etisalat seeks to create a culture where conflicts can be used as a learning experience and helped to establish open communication (Al Ansari, 2009).
Proposal for Dispute System
The dispute system within Etisalat should be comprehensive and integrated, addressing all aspects of the conflict. The system should be strategically tailored to the organization’s needs and operational contexts. The proposed system will consist of three interrelated components: training, third-party intervention, and supportive infrastructure. If effectively approached, conflicts can be used for the betterment of individual employees, teams, and corporate systems, enhancing policy and relationships to prevent future disputes of similar natures.
Training is becoming a critical component of conflict management for leadership and management. This is because managers must be able to competently steer any internal and external conflicts towards optimal resolutions. Good conflict management training can help staff to positively engage with each other in difficult situations such as disagreements, announcing unpopular decisions, receiving criticism, or discussing controversial topics. Training can provide strategies that can be used in the moment as well as wider organizational parameters including restructuring or change to operational procedures (Rahim, 2017). Training can address aspects such as communication, behavioral skills, negotiation, and awareness to prevent any social-based conflict situations.
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The presence of a third-party, preferably neutral, can have significant benefits to conflict management. A third-party can facilitate any conflict resolution sessions and serve as a mediator for the conciliation process. A neutral site can be impartial as well as presenting a perspective that conflicting factions may not consider due to the affective or cognitive natures of the dispute. A third-party can work with both sides individually to determine if any interventions can be implemented to fulfill their needs or assist employees. Meanwhile, resolution sessions can be used to find mutually satisfactory agreements to the conflict (Folger, Poole, & Stutman, 2017).
Supportive infrastructure can consist of various organizational and structural parameters that promote conflict management and prevention. This can include attention from upper management which is focused on modeling and promoting values of conflict management. The company budget should fund systems and human resources that employees can use for peaceful resolution of disagreements. The strategic plan of an organization should ensure that values and principles are in line with the company’s mission. It is possible to create a committee to review the conflict management system at regular intervals, implementing improvements based on feedback, and the most recent analysis of the situation in the company. Finally, a rewards system can be put into place to incentivize employees for effective handling of conflict scenarios.
Cost-Benefits of Proper Dispute Settlement System
The costs of implementing an organizational dispute settlement system can be difficult to quantify since the scale, and company-specific aspects cannot be considered without proper calculation. However, the benefits of an integrated conflict management system are immense, offering any given organization a reduction in extremely costly conflict situations. Therefore, to evaluate the benefits of a system, the full range of consequences from conflicts should be considered.
In a typical organization, managers may spend over 25% of the time attempting to resolve conflicts. With U.S. employees spending an average of 2.8 hours per week in conflict, this equals to $359 billion in lost hourly wages annually, a number largely underestimated (Spencer & Hardy, 2014). Other consequences of conflict include lower motivation and increased turnover which leads to up to 3% of decreased productivity for a company. Indirect costs such as health care, violence, union grievances, and litigation can be estimated to be into millions of dollars for a large corporation. Furthermore, conflicts can interfere with quality decision-making and achieving strategic goals, resulting in lost opportunities for an organization (Mediation Training Institute at Eckerd College).
A comprehensive dispute settlement system is commonly effective at reducing rates of conflicts. Large corporations that have adopted similar programs have reported conflict reduction rates of over 70%, the mediation success rate of 80%, and a 50% drop in litigation costs (Mihm & Fairbank, 2012).
The average total cost of conflict litigation can exceed $367,000 or $49,000 for arbitration. Meanwhile, the total cost of mediation, considering eight labor hours and two administrative hours, should not exceed $7000 (Sgubini & De La Roche, 2015). This results in tremendous savings, both in financial costs and labor hours to manage the conflict. Overall, the cost-benefit of a dispute settlement system significantly outweighs the direct and indirect expenses of an incompetent approach to conflict management an organization.
Industry Best Practices
The telecommunications industry realizes that conflict inherently impacts investment, growth, and competition in the sector. Therefore, multi-step dispute resolution procedures are commonplace. Common practices include a review of complaints by a single manager, an appeals board that addresses employee complaints, and less commonly, peer review panels. A small number of companies utilize mediation and arbitration (in cases of litigation) for conflict resolution. Organizational conflict management systems that have traditionally followed a linear model of communication have now evolved to institutional communication and structures. However, the issue remains that most models are reactive and limited in scope (Aula & Siira, 2010).
There has been an increased focus on manager training, which emphasizes mediation and negotiation techniques. The mediation process is viewed as dynamic, that should consider sensitive topics of culture, race, and gender in the contexts of modern society. There is increased attention to cultural competency and political correctness. Furthermore, ethical aspects, philosophies of mediation, and impasse strategies are valuable. Mediators are commonly knowledgeable in legal aspects and employment claims as well to protect the company. Some innovative firms promote employee engagement through social activities or software tools. Conflict resolution is addressed by attempting to eliminate emotional factors and maintain a balance of fairness and equity amongst employees (Greene, 2013).
Conflict management is a complex process that is based upon theoretical concepts and can be implemented into practice through a wide variety of means. Etisalat, which is a large multinational corporation, requires a proper dispute settlement system to address the issue of conflicting teams working on projects. An effective solution would be to implement a comprehensive integration conflict management system that encompasses training, third-party mediation, and supportive infrastructure. The cost-benefit of such a system is tremendous, preventing multibillion direct and indirect expenses for the company and industry. Conflict management must evolve to recognize societal contexts and business realities that may cause disputes.
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