What Is Organizational Conflict? (With Steps To Overcome It)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated April 4, 2022 | Published January 29, 2021

Updated April 4, 2022

Published January 29, 2021

In order to be an effective leader in the workplace, you need to have strong conflict-resolution skills. These are your ability to diffuse tense situations and help your colleagues get along with one another. By implementing ways to overcome workplace conflict, you can be a part of fostering a more positive company culture. In this article, we define organizational conflict, why it occurs and how to overcome it.

What is organizational conflict?

Organizational conflict is an internal misunderstanding or disagreement that can occur between colleagues or leaders. These kinds of disagreements can lead to a lack of cohesion and collaboration in the workplace. When employees are at odds with one another, it can make it challenging to get everyone aligned with the company's goals.

Related:4 Levels of Conflict and Tips for Managing Them

Organizational conflict causes

Organizational conflict is often caused by the following situations:

Lack of communication

Oftentimes, conflicts occur when there is a break in the flow of communication at work. When someone is lacking the information they need, they may come to faulty conclusions. Likewise, if an employee misinterprets something their colleague or manager says to them, this can also lead to internal conflict in the workplace. This is why it is important to be mindful of how people might interpret what you say or do at work.

Different personality types

While having a mix of personality types can help a company gain new perspectives and ideas, it can also lead to organizational conflict. When people with majorly different personalities have to work together, there may be a clashing of values, priorities and work styles.

Related:Dealing With Interpersonal Conflict at Work

Ambiguous expectations

When managers make their expectations for employees unclear, this can lead to conflict in the workplace. Employees may grow frustrated or confused about what they are supposed to be doing to succeed. This is especially apparent if they think they are doing something correctly and their manager sends it back with unhelpful feedback.

Unclear responsibilities

In order for a workplace to thrive, there has to be some kind of accountability among departments. Conflict can occur when an issue arises and no one takes responsibility for it. Likewise, employees can get into disagreements over who is responsible for what tasks. This is why it's important for everyone to have clearly defined roles in the workplace.

Unfair distribution of resources

When there aren't enough resources at work for everyone, this can lead to competition and conflict. For instance, if the sales department is getting a significant portion of the budget, other departments might feel like their employer favors the sales department. A sense of favoritism can lead to lowered employee morale since people might feel like they aren't getting the recognition and resources they deserve.

Related:A Guide To Leadership and Conflict Management

How to manage organizational conflict

Follow these steps to help your team overcome organizational conflict and get along with each other:

1. Be mindful of your actions

When interacting with your team, you need to be mindful of how people might perceive what you do and say. What might be a funny joke to someone could be potentially offensive to someone else. It's important that you understand what kind of behaviors are appropriate in the workplace. Make an effort to go through your employee handbook with your team. This way, you can ensure you all have a mutual understanding of how to act at work.

2. Accept differences

When people learn to get along, diverse workplaces can see all kinds of benefits. Try to be open to your colleague's ideas or opinions. If you disagree with what they say, try to have a dialogue with them to understand their thought process. You may find that when people get a chance to explain themselves, you actually have a lot in common. People of different backgrounds can learn quite a bit from one another as long as they learn to treat each other with respect.

3. Implement team-building activities

Helping your team members get to know each other better can lead to more collaboration and understanding in the workplace. Team-building activities can help colleagues learn about each other's personalities and work styles much better. Here are a few ideas you could implement to help your team connect:

  • Truth and lies: Have your team members come up with two facts about themselves and one lie. Go around guessing which facts are true and which are false. This can be a fun, low-stakes way of learning about each other's backgrounds.

  • Never have I ever: Everyone puts up all their fingers as people go around the group saying things they have not done. If you personally have done the activity, you put your finger down. The person with the most fingers up "wins." This is a fun way to learn more about each other's experiences and could be a great way to get some conversations going with your team.

  • Would you rather?: In this game, coworkers go around asking each other what they would rather do between two sets of possibilities. For instance, you could ask, "Would you rather live in Antarctica or the Sahara desert?" This can be a fun way to start a meeting and get everyone laughing with one another.

  • Ice-breaker questions: At the start of each meeting, ask your team a lighthearted question. As everyone goes around answering it, you can learn about each other's preferences. For instance, "What is your favorite movie?" or "Where do you hope to travel one day?" are great ice-breaker questions.

Related:10 Five-Minute Team Building Activities

4. Put expectations in writing

Make your team's expectations clear by writing them down. Having thorough job descriptions for each person can help everyone understand their responsibilities and standing in the office. Managers can also meet with their team members one-on-one to help them set goals and understand their expectations moving forward. Make sure to take notes during this meeting so that you can confirm an employee knows what they need to work on.

5. Facilitate open communication

As a lack of communication and misunderstandings often lead to workplace conflict, finding a way to improve your communication processes can be quite helpful. Consider making some guidelines on how employees can communicate about certain topics with one another. For instance, you could encourage employees to discuss project details using email or direct message so that they can look back on what they said.

Related:20 Examples of Conflict of Interest in the Workplace

6. Act as a neutral party

When conflict does arise, act as an intermediary to the situation. Try to help your team members understand each other's perspectives and emotions. Rather than making your own conclusion, let people explain themselves and their intentions. When working through an issue, try to come up with solutions that will suit both parties. While people might not get exactly what they want, a compromise can help diffuse any tension at work.

7. Hold people accountable

Holding everyone accountable for their actions sets good precedence in the workplace. Having accountability ensures that everyone is being mindful of what they do at work. This kind of work structure can help people figure out what problems they are in charge of solving. Likewise, it is a good way for people to grow from their mistakes and do better in the future.

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