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Monday, 27 August 2012
Making Conflicts@work, Work!
Making Conflicts@work, Work!
An L&D leader at workplace once asked
about various ‘real
issues’ that instigate or cause conflicts. This was to add a more
practical and real-flavor to an impending ‘Conflict Management’ workshop that he was
planning to conduct.
As I sat down to pen my thoughts, I scanned
through all the prior experiences where I was either directly involved or
witness to conflicts. Conflicts both of the simmering, brewing types and of the
warfront types. Conflicts both of the ‘natural and obvious’ category and those that
were implanted for vicious reasons.
Conflicts. What made them happen? Could
they have been avoided? Some conflicts that left us wounded and bruised. Or was
I actually glad about some other conflicts (that they happened)? Conflicts were
we fought, debated, deliberated and disagreed but ended up wiser.
Allow me to walk you through some common
conflicts in most dynamic organizations. Definitely not an exhaustive list for
sure. However, definitely a list for us to brood over, introspect and be aware
about. You never know, one of these conflicts could be lurking round a corner. One
of these might actually be operating at a ‘latent’
level around you.
·The conflict between a manager
and his team, when the manager insists on delivering the project on a
particular date, and the team believes that it’s too tight a deadline.
·It could also be about the
scope of a project. The manager feels that the team should definitely work on
information areas A, B and also C and D (to delight the client). The team
however disagrees and believes that it’s an overkill. “When all that the
client wants is information area A and B, why are we even bothered about looking
at C and D?”
·Indiscipline happens to be the
most common cause of conflict on the floors. A star performer thinks that till
the time he is meeting and exceeding his targets, he can get away with
anything. He may often feel that being on the calls (on the floor) shouldn’t be
a big deal, stepping out for a couple of hours should be fine, tailgating is
over-rated, etc. “Am I not meeting my targets? So why all this fuss?”
·Promotions, shifts/transfers to
a different team, secondment or even the possibility of getting preferential
shift timings or PLs are common causes of intra-team rivalry.
·Conflict between manager and
Direct report on assessment against objectives and more commonly against
readiness for promotion.
·Conflict within a manger when
he or she is expected to implement decisions, policies and procedures that he
or she hasn’t bought into.
·And perhaps a corollary of the
above point i.e. Conflict within a manager who feels he isn’t allowed enough
leeway to implement things he is very passionate about.
·An introvert team member may
feel that he is constantly getting sidelined by an aggressive and outspoken
colleague – in terms of stakeholder visibility, access to more high-level
projects or even better ratings.
·Aggressive, highly directive
managers/leaders bring about an air of autocracy. They want everyone to follow
their instructions to the T. They would want their teams to be exactly like
them – in thought, in intelligence, in beliefs, in creativity, in action.
They aren’t open to suggestions or an alternative approach (unless it is
directed and enforced by the client himself). They end up creating an environment
of suffocation and resentment. A breeding ground for conflicts.
·A weak leadership that leaves
too many gaps and holes, doesn’t lays down precise vision, mission, milestones
and success criteria is another sign of emerging conflicts. The team isn’t well
informed and there is a general lack of transparency. It could be both on a
project/client front and also about internal organizational developments. This
could pave way for assumptions, ambiguities, grapevine and eventually a state
of chaos with too many erratic, contradictory decisions leading to conflicts.
·Our often subconscious beliefs
in stereotypes are another major factor. Stereotyping people based on their
race, religion, nationality, gender or at times even cities (the most popular
one being the perennial Delhi-Mumbai debate) can often lead to major conflicts.
·On a similar line, being
insensitive about issues like religion, politics, prior work experience, age,
marital status and physical appearance is the most needless way of getting into
conflicts. What’s humor to one may not be appreciated by others. The best
approach, ofcourse is to be straight and empathetic, and avoid any kind of dry,
dark or below-the-belt humor.
Lack of clarity/communication about the precise goals:
·An example of inter-team
conflict could be the one between Operations and HR. The Ops may continue to
feel that the recruitment team is not as passionate or quality-conscious (in
their screening) and keeps sending them bad candidates. On the other hand, the
HR could strongly feel that the Ops are being too ‘closed-out’ in not offering
them enough rationale for rejecting good candidates. They may even feel that
the JDs are too vaguely structured, too unrealistic or the process tests are
·Another most common grudge is
the lack of passion, urgency, commitment, response and action accorded to most
support processes like IT, Finance, HR and Admin. It once again boils down to
empathy, communication and setting processes and best practices. What’s
priority to an Ops team may infact be just perceived as a BAU by the IT.
And if everything is escalated as a priority, how is IT expected to rank
·Most conflicts may remain
subtle, on a slow-flame for long periods. However, Escalations have a tendency
to fuel-up most of these conflicts. The blame-game brings out the minutest of
conflicts between the client and the delivery teams. Scoping, resourcing,
assumptions, transitions - all aspects come to the fore. Within the delivery,
it’s then a fight amidst the transition team, the project manager, the
resources, the quality assurance and at times, even the vendors.
As indicated earlier, this is just a
laundry list of possible conflicts brewing around us. Run through the list once
again. It’s ironical that most of the frameworks that were introduced to
increase employee engagement are the most common causes of conflicts – SMART objectives, appraisals, feedback,
rewards & recognitions, promotions, hikes. Perhaps that’s human behavior at
its truest. People don’t really like the idea of being filtered, screened, and
segregated or being pitched against each other. Even the most rationale folks
find it difficult to accept the most logical defeats.
Despite our gradual evolution and
acceptance of the Darwin’s principle of ‘Survival of the fittest’, it’s difficult to accept, when it works
against us. But then, we don’t we see the athletes in a race track coming to
blows after a race? The losers simply step aside and let the winners bask in
glory. Why then in the corporate world, isn’t this Darwin principle taken as it
Simple – because the athletes know their
goal post and have no one else to blame. Things aren’t as clear and Black & White in the corporate. The
people in the corporate world would be much more receptive, if they were
conveyed their shortcomings in as many
words. If their goals were set as objectively as possible. If they were
constantly shown their progress dashboard rather than an end of the year report
card. If they were coached and asked to buck up, rather than be coldly informed about their pace at the end of the
race. In our quest to be good, nice, humane and popular – most managers shy
away from conveying the tough message. And that, I believe is the single largest reason
for ongoing conflicts in organizations. Not the
presence of competitive performance and progress evaluation mechanisms, but rather
our inability to use them effectively as enablers rather than water-tight structures.
A Conflict, just like some other complex
words like Competition,
is often associated with negativity. But
think again, and most of these concepts, are the cornerstone of a fair, equal and
efficient society. The now despised Bureaucracy is the foundation stone for the
now progressive sounding Meritocracy. Wasn’t Reservation all about ‘Equal
Opportunity’ at its outset? A society, organization or ecosystem
sans any conflict, competition, bureaucracy or reservation is nothing more than
a stagnant pond. Dead wood!
Most of these concepts, shouldn’t be killed
or uprooted, but rather be nurtured carefully. Conflicts need to be approached
based on the importance of issue & relationship at stake and resolved (or nurtured)
accordingly. Rather than shun Conflicts, let’s take them head-on. Let’s
pre-empt them, encourage them and create a fearless culture of creative
conflicts. A culture with no dummies, sycophants and yes-men. But rather
an innovative culture that breeds conflicts. Where everyone has a unifying
goal, but do
not think alike!
it goes in a popular commercial, just like ‘Daag’, Conflicts Achche hain!