Work Teams: Dispute Resolution
Human Relations and Organizational Behavior 502
Dr. Michael Lindsey
August 10, 2005
Can conflict among work teams or individual employees be avoided? This and other conflict resolution issues will be addressed in this paper along with a couple of hypothetical workplace disputes and the viable solutions that can be applied to resolve the conflict(s).
Work Teams and Conflicts
“The use of work teams has become a popular strategy for increasing productivity and worker flexibility in the United States. Seventy-eight percent of U.S. organizations report that at least some of their employees are organized into work teams. In those organizations that utilize teams, an average of 61% of all employees is members of teams” (Bishop, Scott, and Burroughs, 2000). “A team is a group of people who are interdependent with respect to information, resources, and skills and who seek to combine their efforts to achieve a common goal” (Thompson, Aranda, and Robbins 2000, p9).
In most cultures and most global organizations, individuals have been paired or grouped into teams that are required to work together towards the completion of set goals. Today’s employees come from diverse cultural backgrounds with diverse attitudes and values. This can be good in that it can provide an organization with new and innovative ideas for positive and profitable direction in a global economy that is dominated by many of the same types of businesses. However, when employees are placed in groups or work teams, conflict can, sometimes, arise.
Types of Hypothetical Workplace Disputes
Conflict can be good or bad for an organization. It is good or functional when it causes a team to perform effectively. However, conflict can be bad for an organization when it causes a group or team to perform inefficient and ineffective work that keeps the team from achieving its desired goals and objectives in the specified timeframe. Some conflicts support the goals of the group and improve its performance; these are functional, constructive forms of conflicts. There are also conflicts that hinder group performance; these are dysfunctional or destructive forms (Robbins 2001, p262-263).
What Causes Conflicts
Several factors can lead or contribute to the escalation of conflict among groups or teams in the workplace. Some factors include but are not limited to: communication barriers, lack of good interpersonal skills, and poor ethical behavior.
“Conflict is constructive when it improves the quality of decisions, stimulates creativity and innovation, encourages interest and curiosity among group members, provides the medium through which problems can be aired and tensions released, and fosters an environment of self-evaluation and improvement” (Robbins 2001, p269). In essence, constructive conflict allows teams to work together and provides the medium through which new and exciting ideas can be used to add flavor or variety to the scope of team assignment(s). It also contributes to an organization’s high or increased profit margin. Teammates who maintain their individuality are able to question and provide workable solutions to traditional concepts and ideas that usually hinder the growth of an organization (stops it from diversifying). “Commitment to the organization and to the work team is related to a number of desired employee outcomes” (Bishop, Scott, and Burroughs, 2000).
Conflict that is destructive can lead to the breakdown of the structure of the team which can result in the unrealized goals or objectives that the team was formulated to accomplish. At the extreme, conflict can bring group functioning to a halt and potentially threaten the group’s survival” (Robbins 2001, p269). Team members who lack good interpersonal skills and who operate in a vacuum (has tunnel vision) can exhibit behaviors that are offensive to other members of the team that can lead to the creation of conflict. That is why it is so important for managers to pay specific attention to employees’ cultural background, values, work ethics, attitudes, and level of expertise when formulating work teams. Team members should be provided with profiles of each other as a way to integrate and form better working relationships. Employees who are knowledgeable and who have good interpersonal skills tend to demonstrate mature behavior and are able to stay focused on the tasks at hand.
Conflict Resolution: Scenario #1
A self-directed work team has been formulated and rules and guidelines that will govern the operation of the team have been established. However, throughout the course of the project, one particular team member appointed herself as the team leader and proceeds to dominate the group with her own visions and ideas. This caused some conflict within the team who then proceeded to rebel against the self-appointed team leader. There’s a work stoppage because none of the members are willing to continue in the current situation. The manager now has to intervene and remind each team member of the purpose for the formulation of team. Reference must also be made to the established rules and guidelines governing that particular teams’ successful completion of the project. The manager (who is the ultimate team leader) will then allow each member to take turns operating as team leaders in the area(s) that they are more skillful. “Instead of a leader who tells others what to do, set goals, or monitors achievement, team leaders remove obstacles for the team and make sure that the team has the resources it needs. The primary role of the team leader is to facilitate rather than control” (Thompson, Aranda, and Robbins 2000, p8).
Conflict Resolution: Scenario #2
Choosing the right mix of employees is important to the successful completion of a team project. An organization whose structural setup is primarily based on work teams should perform extensive investigations that probe into the background (work and cultural) of each individual and build dossiers that are kept on fill in the human resource division or department of the organization. An individual was hired and added to a newly created work team. The organization failed to perform a thorough background check on the individual who is confrontational, disruptive, and is not a team player. During the course of the project, the manager notices that this particular employee has not only alienated himself from the team but he has not contributed his fair share of the work assignments. The manager now has to meet with the employee, separate and apart from the team, to ascertain what management will do. Will management retain him or fire him? After interacting with the employee, the manager realizes that the employee has the potential to become a contributing member of the work team. The manager, after a candid talk with him the employee, decides to send him to some training seminars that would enable him to gain the skills necessary to survive in that work environment.
In conclusion, organizations must recognize that with the diverse backgrounds of their employees, conflicts will arise. Therefore, management must aggressively invest in tools that will enable their employees to effectively and efficiently monitor and manage conflict disputes. The best outcomes will support the goals of the team and the organization and improve performance levels. Both the employees and management must be able to maintain a medium through which problems can be aired and resolve for the advancement of all involved (employees, managers, and organization).
Bishop, J. W., Dow Scott, K., Burroughs, S. S. (2000). Support, Commitment, and
Employee Outcomes in a Team Environment. Journal of Management 26(6)
Robbins, S. (2001). Organizational Behavior. (University of Phoenix, Eds.) Boston,
MA. Pearson Custom Publishing.
Thompson, L., Aranda, E., Robbins, S.P. (2000). Tools for Teams: Building Effective
Teams in the Workplace. (University of Phoenix, Eds.) Boston, MA Pearson