Intergroup Conflict in Organizations
In order to have order and efficiency, an organization groups work duties into different departments then staffs the department. The organization has an overall mission and strategy while the departments have their specific goals which all lead to profit-making. As the people interact in the different departments interact, there will arise conflict due to different reasons.
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It could be cultural differences, inadequate resources or goal incompatibility. The top management can use two main methods to deal with the conflict. It can either use the rational or political approach. In using a political approach, the management has to understand the different kinds of power, the sources of power and the impact they have on the employees. Conflict within an organization is a common occurrence.
As some degree of conflict occurs in all relationships involving people, these forces must be managed to achieve results properly aligned with the desired outcomes of the organization. This paper will examine the nature of intergroup conflict and how power and politics are applied in order to resolve conflict and attain organizational goal.
Competition and Conflict
There is a difference between conflict and competition in the organization. Conflict adversely affects the productivity of the workers and the ultimate bottom line of the company. It is not healthy at all.
Competition can be healthy between the different departments as they strive to be the best in order to get rewards and other forms of compensation (Makin, Cooper & Cox, 1996, p. 233). However where competition goes too far to instill prejudices, negative attitudes, biases and stereotyping then the competition has become unhealthy and it should be addressed by management.
Sources of Intergroup Conflict
This is where the goals of one department are in conflict with the goals of another department. Goal incompatibility ends up leading to hostility, stereotyping behaviour, biases and prejudiced behaviour (Gallinsky, 2002). The marketing department wants to use financial resources to run promotions and other advertising campaigns while the finance department is concerned with cutting costs.
This causes a lot of conflict as the marketing manager seeks to have his quarterly operational budget while the finance manager tells him that the costs are too high and to look for cheaper alternatives. The marketing department may also get into conflict with the manufacturing department.
The marketing manager wants a diverse variety of goods to satisfy customer wants. He also wants new products and existing products to be produced quickly and taken to distribution points. However all these mean manufacturing costs for the manufacturing department and reaching a compromise may prove to be a difficult task.
Another source of conflict is the differences in the cognitive and emotional orientations of the different staff in the organisation. When it comes to work, different departments may have different deadlines for the completion of the work. One department may be constrained by time and experience a lot of time pressure while another group does not have any time constraints.
This causes conflict as one group feels rushed while another feels that the other group is dragging its feet or delaying them. When it comes to negotiating for resources and other needs, one department may be at a higher status in terms of the revenue they bring to the organisation.
This causes inequality at the negotiating table. Each of the groups has different esteem needs. There could also be differences in the information that different departments have causing conflict (Spoelstra & Pienaa, 1991, p. 191).
Where one department does not have the correct or the latest information it causes misunderstandings. There are certain groups who have higher expertise than others in certain areas causing conflict. Cultural differences are other thorny issues.
In an organisation with no training on embracing cultural diversity, there will be problems. People will not understand other people’s values, habits and attitudes in life. People tend to distrust people who are different from them (Gallinsky, 2002)
Where there are mergers, it is difficult to merge the old staff and new staff work values, culture and ethics. Organisations are great at aligning the production and financial structures however integrating organisational values prove to be difficult.
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There is also the challenge of personality differences. The marketing manager may be highly outgoing with a friendly, warm personality while the scientist is a bit reserved and withdrawn. There will arise conflict where one feels the other is invading his space while the one feels that the other is a bit cold and detached
The conflict occurs since one department has to rely on another in order to complete its work. There are very few cases where there is pooled interdependence. This refers to the situation where a department does not rely on another department to conduct and accomplish its tasks (Rahim, 2010, p. 150) Conflict occurs in several ways. It may be that work is done in sequential fashion. One group does its work then it passes the work
to another group to continue with the second step. Therefore the output of one group serves as the input of another group (Spoelstra & Pienaa, 1991, p. 189). If one group feels that it is receiving poor quality work or the work is always late, conflict arises.
This is usually the type of task interdependence present in a manufacturing plant. The product needs to be assembled first before it is considered for paint work. Multiple departments may also be giving input to one group so information is being sourced from different sources. A good example of this is in the operating theatre. There is need of one single input from the nurses, technicians, surgeons and anaesthetists.
Conflict may arise where there are inadequate resources. This is a major source of conflict since the members end up feeling others are preferred over them (Rahim, 2010, p. 150) Each department may want a larger share of the office space, equipment, manpower or human resources. Where there are limited resources it ends up with one group winning while another one loses (Spoelstra & Pienaa, 1991, p. 190).
In an organisation, the department that gets access to certain resources may appear to be prestigious or influential or powerful. Scarce resources may lead managers to commit unethical actions such as inflating the departmental budget in order to gain access to higher financial resources.
Other managers may opt to work behind the scenes to ensure their department gets certain resources. This causes managers to fight and have conflict and people end up taking sides against another.
The Political and the Rational Model in Solving Intergroup Conflicts
The approach that will be used to solve the conflict will depend on the degree of goal incompatibility, differentiation, task interdependence and limited resources. A political approach is used where the degree of the mentioned variables are high.
Power and influence are used to solve conflicts. Where the conflict is not high, the management will be able to use a rational approach. Politics can be defined as the use of power to achieve certain results or outcomes.
Power and Authority
Power is the ability of an individual to influence others or the decision making process in an organisation. Authority refers to the role that has been conferred upon the individual by the organisation in terms of duties and responsibilities. An individual may be placed as the operations manager while another is under him as the operations officer.
Power is different from authority in several ways. Authority is different because it is conferred by the organisational structure. It mostly flows vertically, from the managers to the subordinates (Shukla, 2004, p. 109). Power however has certain aspects that enable the staff and departments to experience it horizontally.
Authority comes from the position or role that one plays in the organisation. Subordinates also respond very well to authority rather than power. They are more likely to be concerned with the orders the bosses have given out rather than listen to people or departments that are deemed to be powerful in the organisation.
Vertical Sources of Power
Formal Position: This comes from the position an individual occupies in the organisation. A person at the top will have certain rights, responsibilities due to the position he occupies. This is seen by many to be a legitimate source of power since it is power that has been given formally by the owners or board of the company.
Financial Resources: In this form of vertical power it mainly rests with the top managers as they are the ones who decide how the resources will be distributed.
Top management are the ones who decide the reward compensation programs, the bonuses and even the salary increases. The subordinates realise this and they do their best not to make any manager angry or disappointed in their work so that they can get the resources that they need.
Control of decision premises: The manager who is able to restrict the flow of information to those who are lower than him has a lot of power. If he is the one preparing the minutes he knows how to structure the agenda to suit his needs
This is where the management shares power with the other staff in the organisations (Nelson & Campbell, 2004, p. 226). They give them opportunities to gain skills and expertise in order to participate in decision making of the organisation. It gives the employees a chance to prove themselves.
They become more self-confident. They are also highly motivated to work for the organisation since they are being trusted to make decisions and their skills and talents are being used. The three stages of empowerment for the employees is job meaning, self-determination, competence and having an impact in the organisation.
Horizontal Sources of Power
Horizontal power is not achieved through a hierarchical system in the organisation. Some departments have more say than others in accordance to the financial contribution they make to the organisation. The sales and marketing teams bring in more money so they are valued or are more powerful. There are events or occurrences that strengthen a department’s position within an organisation.
A manager therefore needs to be strategic when charting his activities and events for the year. If he ends up leading the organisation to address a growing need within the organisation or he helps the organisation deal with an emerging challenge outside the organisation, his departmental power will grow. There events or activities have come to be known as strategic congruencies.
Dependency : In an organisation the department that relies on another department for information, knowledge, materials or any other outputs finds itself vulnerable. However the department that is being relied on by over five departments finds itself in a very powerful position.
Financial Resources: This is another source of power. In a business it is all about achieving the bottom line or making a profit. The department that is deemed to be steering the organisation towards such a goal is deemed to be powerful. The management does everything to ensure that the organisation gets what it needs in terms of financial and non-financial resources.
For these departments even in times of scarcity of resources they find themselves having most of the resources they need. They have a higher priority over other departments when it comes to the distribution of these resources. With these scarce resources that they are given they make even more profit.
Centrality: This brings in the issue of support staff and operations staff. The operational departments such as production are seen to be contributing directly to the firms total output. Other support staff such as human resources may be seen not to be contributing directly to the firm’s primary output and eventually to the firm’s bottom line.
Those departments with direct staff or operations staff are more powerful. Their requests are heard fully before other departments can really lay out their issues. One of the ways of recognising the central departments is their relationship to the organisational strategy (Shukla, 2004, p. 112)
Non-substitutability: This comes in where there are certain staffs in the organisation that cannot be easily replaced. There is no one else with the level of skills and expertise that they possess.
This gives them power. It could be an individual or a whole department. The organisation will find itself seeking for third party services or expertise when the individual is on leave or he leaves the organisation suddenly either through dismissal or resignation.
Coping with uncertainty. Another source of power is when a department handles the aspect of uncertainty well. The truth is that in an organisation there will always be uncertainty to some extent on market sales, promotions and other interactions with the external environment.
A department that therefore assists the organisation to deal with uncertainty is perceived to be very powerful. Managers should therefore strive to take advantage of these strategic congruencies.
Appropriate use: There are certain dangers of using politics to resolve conflict in the organisation. First of all, it often involves the use of deceptive or dishonesty. It usually causes even further conflict aggravating the existing tense feelings. Most people feel anxious, insecure and nervous in a working environment where there is a lot of conflict. It also increases the level of job dissatisfaction and may lead to certain levels of employee turnover.
In this environment, the staff will exhibit low work morale, inferior outlook, low quality of work results and errors. There will be poor decisions made as people seek self-satisfaction showing a deviation in the staff from achieving team work and the organisational goals.
However politics can be used positively in the organisation where this form of power is not abused. The proper and acceptable use and view of politics is where it is used as a tool for the bargaining and negotiating of rights and tasks in the organisation. In this way it helps to solve conflicts and equips staff in negotiation and decision making skills.
Domains of Political Activity
Structural Change and Management Succession
Political power may be implemented through structural change in the organisation. It may occur in diverse ways. The management may change the responsibilities or tasks of certain individuals. This is where the managers will be found in meetings negotiating and striving to be heard so that they can maintain the responsibilities and roles that they had before.
The organisation’s staff may experience a high level of transfers, promotions, dismissals or retrenchments and hiring of new staff (Rahim, 2010, p. 155). This occurs mostly at the top management level. To provide a buffer for themselves managers usually engage in informal networks for support, communication and cooperation is required for survival.
Members in the different departments can even be exchanged so as to reduce the level of intergroup bias and attitudes. It will create understanding as staff experiences the challenges that other staff in other groups experience.
The methods of communication within the organisation can even be altered so as to find a medium that gives clearer communication between the groups.
Political power may also be demonstrated by the degree of resources allocated to staff or groups. When speaking of resources it includes a wide range of resources such as employees or manpower, salaries, office equipment and operating budgets. In an organisation there are groups that will be given more resources than others.
The discrepancies in the degree of resources given to different departments increase the tendency towards disharmony in an organisation (Alderfer & Smith, 1982) Power is also vested in departments that control critical inputs for other departments in the processing process (Shukla, 2004, p. 114)
Political Tactics for Using Power
There are different tactics that managers use to get what they want. The use of power where there is intergroup conflicts requires the manager to be skilful or even sly. Lack of preparedness may cause him or her not to accomplish their goal.
Building of coalitions: In order for a manager to be able to use this strategy, he must have a high level of interpersonal skills. To build a coalition does not happen in a formal environment, most of the time it occurs in informal meetings. Building the social networks assists the managers to accomplish certain tasks (Boyatzis, 1982, p. 122).
Before a major meeting, the manager engages other managers either in one on one session or in hurdles of threes in order to convince them to see and advocate for his point of view. The manager must be perceived to be acting in the best interests of other managers and the organisation as a whole. The foundation set by the manager should be one of trust, mutual respect and harmony.
Expansion of Networks: A second strategy that the manager may use is to work towards expanding the size of his network. This is where an individual either seeks out relationships with other new managers or gets a way of getting the managers who are not sympathetic to his side.
The organisation opts to transfer or promote individuals to come to strategic positions so that they can fight for the departmental access to certain resources or privileges. There is also the approach of bringing people who are against the system closer to management so as to win their support. A good example is where there are certain managers against the promotion and salary system in the organisation.
In order to get their support the management promotes the managers and brings them to be in the committee. This way they can see the challenges involved in the administration of the promotion and salary policies and appreciate the approach the organisation in order to achieve balance and harmony.
This is known as “modelling” the desired behaviour for the staff so that the top management is able to accomplish its task with the staff support (Boyatzis, 1982, p. 122)
The Control of decision premises: In this political tactic, the manager may choose not to reveal all the information to the other managers so as to influence them to do what he wants. Similarly, he may only tell the other managers the favourable information concerning his department and hide other negative information that will not help him achieve the results that he wants.
This method of control of decision premises actually refers to the act of restraining or constraining the boundaries of decision making which is what the manager is doing by giving selective information.
The manager is affecting the foundation of decision making which is access to information (Gareth, 1997, p. 165). A university department while campaigning for additional resources will emphasize its growth in recent time periods. Another strategy is in manipulating the agenda during meetings.
Items that the manager wants to receive crucial attention will be placed will be discussed early when the other managers have a lot of energy to discuss and give their contribution.
Other items that are deemed to be less crucial at that time are placed at the end of the meeting when the people are tired and in a hurry to leave since the attention given to them will be obviously low. The manager may also choose to call attention to certain items in the agenda and even offer viable alternatives so that he can kick off a discussion.
Use of legitimacy and expertise: In an organisation there are those managers who are known to be experts in certain fields. In this strategy, the manager will seek to give other managers his requests relevant to his area of expertise.
Due to his recognition in that domain, the other managers will agree to his request quickly. If the request involves some area that is a bit too complex, the manager can choose to involve third party professional or technical experts in order to increase the weight of his request in his favour. In other scenarios, change in an organisation is most of the time resisted by the
established systems in the organisation for a long time. The management can use politics to remove these people in order to institute the changes that they desire (Shukla, 2004, p. 111)
Balancing preferences and power: the manager cannot afford to be silent since his department will not get the support and resources that are needed. The managers should use power implicitly, wisely or slyly and make his requests explicitly.
There are requests that are usually considered in an organisation because there were no other viable alternatives suggested by other managers. Other manager’s suggestions could have missed selection and appropriate discussion simply because the requests were ambiguous, unclear and confusing. One should be clear about his requests in meetings.
The manager has to take a risk and speak out. Managers are in a position to influence the agenda of meetings (Shukla, 2004, p. 110)
Power should never be announced. It leaves a bad taste in the mouth. People in the organisation know the departments and individuals who are powerful. If a manager draws undue attention to the power or say he has, other managers will not support him as they will find him to be self-seeking or selfish.
Managers must therefore balance the rational and political nature of their work. They should use politics positively to achieve desired goals.
There are different ways in which intergroup conflicts can be resolved however the use of political power should be used with caution due to the precarious side effects it may have. There has to be a balance. Political power is a great tool for managers to solve intergroup conflicts that will usually be there in any organisation.
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