Faculty Member HIMS, Visiting Faculty: NIPA, KPT Staff College, Former Dy. General Manager State Life.

Sep 02 - 08, 2002


During the last few years, I have been speaking to different professional groups on the subject and every time I do so some new dimensions are added to the topic with reference to our own organizational culture as my groups comprise well informed middle and senior level executives from Public and private sectors. Organization conflict is different than individual conflict, which topic is also indirectly related to organizational conflict, but has its own importance also. The focus of this article is on organizational conflict.

During the recent times, views of conflict have changed. Three decades ago, conflict was considered a harmful result of failure in applying management principles. Now conflict is thought to be not only inevitable but also, at times essential to maintain a competitive spirit and "life' within the organization. One very seasoned executive once remarked it is like a pinch of salt added to flour to make a good dough for bread, but then, he asked, if we mix a pinch of flour to a kilogram of salt, what will happen? It is very true , conflict should be within palatable limits.

There are various types of organizational conflicts. Conflict between two or more groups in an organization may arise from difference in perception, management structure itself and difference in perception of roles, goals, values and expectation. Sharing resources especially when these are limited, is very often a source of conflict. Unfair treatments, unjustified privileges to some employee(s), are some other sources of conflict. Conflicts may give rise to groups cohesion, selecting strong leaders; distorted perceptions about ones own group and the other camp. Such group cohesion may help achieve the goals of the groups but will adversely affect the achievement of the corporate goals that are definitely more important. The structure of the organization, level of conflict and the organization's method of dealing with it will affect the ultimate outcome of the conflict.

Method of managing conflict may include stimulation, reduction or integration. In stimulation method we bring third party, even outsiders into picutre, encourage competition, restructure the organization and redistribute, power within the organization. Reduction method means establishing super ordinate goals, and bringing the conflicting camps together to help solve the problem that is common. Integrative method helps the Managers to solve the problem in a way that is beneficial to all the groups. It is a desirable method, while suppressing conflict, may help for the time, but in the long run, it is harmful.

Other types of conflict in the organizations, include, line-staff conflict, Management-labour conflict. Line-staff conflict in turn gives rise to inter groups conflict mentioned earlier. Management-labour conflict is more adversarial in nature and is often heightened during negotiations, and may result into strikes, lockouts, and other such consequences.

Organizational creativity is one of the methods of keeping conflict at the minimum desirable limit. It requires understanding of the creative process, encouraging the flow of creative thinking among employees, rewarding on positive contributions and encouraging it in all possible ways. Keeping minds open to accept change, providing clear objectives, regular training and development of employees and management hierarchy and tolerating failures of new ideas are some of the methods of encouraging creativity in organizations. It should be kept in mind that creativity does not bring immediate results. Ideas take time to be integrated with the system through improvement, and even if fail apparently, have their potential value for the organization. Ideas have to be generated, developed and implemented which is a time consuming process. Brain storming, groups decision making, regular task forces and other activities bring people together to ponder on corporate affairs and problem help and foster creativity.

If we were to sum up the entire subject of managing organizational conflict, then we have to create a climate in the organization that ensures, free flow of communication in the environment, and among organization members, and integration of organizational activities.