All too often organizations cry out for what I call the quick fix. You know the scenario: two employees not getting along, probably personality differences, not real receptive to previous internal interventions, etc., so the organization decides to bring in outside help to fix the problem. Sound familiar?
I 00004000 call it the quick fix because the conflict between the two employees may also be a symptom of a much larger organizational problem, or, as I like to call it, a system malfunction. In this scenario, a system malfunction can be a direct result of poor leadership, dysfunctional work groups, inadequate performance management processes and/or a general lack of soft skills training and resources for employees on the part of the organization.
Now do not get me wrong. It is very important to address the actual conflicts between employees and to help them reach acceptable resolutions, etc. However, it would be a mistake for an organization to limit the scope of a conflict resolution to the immediate conflicting employees without also being willing to look at the surrounding system where the conflict resides in. Without a more thorough assessment, an organization can easily get into the habit of treating the symptom while ignoring the problem.
In order to assess if there are organizational factors that are contributing to the conflict(s), consider investigating the following checkpoints:
Checkpoint 1: Is adequate leadership within the organization and department being demonstrated?
The leader (i.e., supervisor/manager) of the employees in conflict is the first place to check to assess whether the conflict is a symptom of a bigger problem or merely an isolated event. Things to look for include:
-What previous efforts have been made by the leader to address the conflict and with what results?
-Is the leader comfortable with conflict resolution?
-Is the leader role-modeling effective conflict resolution skills?
-What has the leader done to create a supportive environment within their group for effective conflict resolution?
-Is the leader consistent in how he/she addresses conflicts?
-Is the leader being held accountable by their supervisor in effectively addressing conflict resolution issues in their area?
-Are effective conflict resolution skills being practiced by the CEO and his/her senior management team?
The leadership factor is the most important predictor of how conflict will be handled within a given department and/or organization. If a supervisor/manager is ineffective in handling conflict, it is possible that their supervisor/manager may not be providing adequate coaching or guidance to them. If not, the problem has now expanded to the next level of leadership. Sometimes this can be traced all the way up to the CEO.