Conflict - Harley-Davidson vs. Marquette University's Student Safety Programs

25% of a typical manager's time is spent responding to dysfunctional conflict."

"Employers will typically spend a total of 13 days in management and HR time on EACH disciplinary case and 9 days on EACH formal grievance submitted."

"On average, employees spend 12 days EACH year dealing with conflict."
Improve Leadership - Develop Teams - Increase Staff Satisfaction - All in One On-line Self Service Programme." People Problems. BP2W. Web. 02 May 2012. <>. 
The above quotes are astonishing.  25% of a typical manager's time is spent responding to dysfunctional conflict.  Can you imagine the amount of money and organization would save if there was no dysfunctional conflict?  In addition, you figure a company at least 5 disciplinary cases a year.  With 5 disciplinary cases a year and 13 days spent in management and HR time spent on them, in the lifetime of a manager, let's say 20 years, 1300 days are wasted!  In the working life of an employee, let's say 40 years is the working life (most high school students get a job at age 16 and then people work until they are able to retire at age 65), 480 days are spent dealing with conflict.    Conflict is a huge problem in the workplace and is costing organizations a lot of money!  

Click here to participate in an exercise where you can calculate the costs of   "people problems."  In this exercise, you report an average salary of a manager for your organization.  For an example, I am going to say the annual average salary of a manager is $50,000.  In my example, there is only 1 manager in this organization that manages 30 employees who have an average salary of $35,000 a year.  My particular manager has had 5 disciplinary problems and 4 grievances this year which has cost my organization $14,130 and $7,826 respectively.  In addition, the time lost in a manager dealing with day to day dysfunctional conflict is $12,500.  Finally, for the employees, the amount of money lost to dysfunctional conflict with 30 employees is $54,783.  The total cost of dysfunctional conflict in my example is $89,239!  An organization could afford to give all of their employees bonuses if they did not have to deal with dysfunctional conflict!  

As you saw in my example above, conflict costs a lot of money.  How do we reduce the effects and costs of conflict on an organization? It seems as though the chances of finding the answer to my question is equivalent to the chances of finding a golden ticket in one of Willy Wonka's chocolate bars.

According to Bill Cole, founder and CEO of William B. Cole Consultants in Silicon Valley, CA., there are 4 predictable, ordered,stages that teams go through.  The first stage is forming.  In this stage, everyone is joining together to form the group.  The next stage, storming, is where all the problems generally occur.  In this stage, team members are positioning for power, prestige and control without even knowing it!  A normally amiable worker can be suddenly transformed into a grasping, maniacal power broker.  The third stage, norming, is where everyone knows their position and the team is finally starting to get along.  The final stage, performing, is where the team is finally able to put aside their differences and work together to accomplish something.  

Now that you know the four stages that teams go through, how do you know when a team is in stage 2 (storming)?  Below are a few signs that a team is in conflict:
  • Feelings of defensiveness
  • Inadequate and incomplete listening taking place.
  • Innocent actions and comments are taken personally.
  • Arrival and departure times are not sharp.
  • Disagreements over trivial matters.
  • Hidden agendas seem to be displayed.
  • Power and control are coveted.
  • Frustration is evident.
  • Personal goals take priority over team goal
  • Lack of team commitment is public.  

The above is only a SHORT list of signs of a team in conflict.  As a manager or a supervisor, you cannot let these issues just "disappear" because they never really disappear.  They may go away for a little bit but they will never "disappear" until the problems are addressed.   The problems on a team will continue until they are either solved, they make people quit the team, or the team itself implodes.  In order to solve these issues, open, honest, direct and safe discussion is very important.  It is also important NOT to frame the team's issues as "dysfunctional or negative" because all groups have problems and all groups go through the storming phase.  Ignoring, minimizing or mishandling these issues will build a tame that will crack and splinter at the first, tiniest signs of stress.  

As a manager, if you learn to deal with the storming phase constructively, you will ultimately build a stronger team that can handle even higher levels of stress in the future.  You want to teach and help your team learn excellent coping and problem-solving skills now, in a safer, less demanding, less business-critical environment, where mistakes are simply errors and not costly, business-harming tragedies.  In this phase, everything needs to be handled sensitively so that all team members retain their dignity and self-esteem.  Of course, this sounds great but as a manager, how do you do this for your team?  Below are 14 leadership strategies for managing team conflict
  • Be sensitive to the needs, wants and conflicts your team is experiencing.
  • Take seriously what people are saying and give people your full respect, even if the issue being complained about seems trivial.  Even seemingly minor issues reflect inner needs the person has which need resolving within a the team.
  • Consider using an outside mediator, coach, consultant or facilitator to resolve particularly thorny issues.
  • Tackle and achieve victory in at least one, simpler issue to gain traction and a sense of accomplishment and agreement.
  • Maintain a positive, constructive problem-solving stance and do not allow whining and complaining beyond the initial discussion of the issue.
  • Maximize people's strengths and minimize their weaknesses in a strategic manner to optimize team functioning.
  • Realize you will not change personalities or styles people bring to the team, but you can work with them creatively.
  • Set an example as a high-performing, crisply-communicating leader.
  • Shift gears and wear the many hats of team-leading success, including leader, catalyst, orchestrator, cheerleader, counselor, coach, consultant and organizer.
  • Ask what your role might be, if any, in potentially contributing to the conflict.
  • Make sure you set a high-minded tone, one that does not allow for scapegoating, negativity, self-pity or lack of vision within the team.
  • Encourage active discussion and respectful disagreement so creativity is fostered.
  • Change and vary team job assignments to increase energy and interest.
  • Use your best judgment when resolving team conflict, maintaining respect for the individual and keeping the best interests of the team in mind at all times.  

Using these 14 leadership techniques can help to create a high performing team which is both exciting and challenging at the same time.  The potential for excellent business outcomes amplifies as you build your team however you should be aware of the many predictable team pitfalls you will encounter and have solutions and systems ready to apply when they do occur.  

Now, please watch the below video clips of the IT Crowd.
After Jen's interview, you see that the team is in the forming stage.  Jen, Moss and Denholm are getting to know each other.  Denholm and Moss find out that Jen knows absolutely nothing about IT. The team is now in the storming phase.  Denholm and Moss are very upset that Roy made Jen their manager because Jen knows absolutely nothing about IT and has no experience in the field.  Jen is very defensive and Moss and Denholm don't believe that Jen should be their manager.  Denholm and Moss both say that they are each the manager of the IT department and they are perfectly fine without Jen.  Jen, Moss and Denholm then go to Roy's office and as you can see in the second clip, their trip to Roy's office is unsuccessful.  Roy completely ignores the problems of the team which is not helpful at all and he passively makes a threat about firing the IT department because they cannot work as a team.  Roy is not sensitive to the problems of the team at all and offers them no solutions to help fix the department.  After the IT department visits Roy's office and Roy doesn't help them with anything, they are forced to work together because they all want to keep their jobs. Jen works to help bring employees down to the IT department to show them that the department is friendly and very helpful.  By doing this, Jen is hoping to  improve the image that the IT department has.  She attempts to make it the party place in the office building because she knows of the bad rep that the department has.  She is being sensitive to the needs of both Moss and Denholm.    Jen also keeps in mind that the best interest of the team is getting along with the other departments of the organization and so she works to try to have working relationships with the other departments.

Conflict is present in every organization and organizations have to work to try to minimize conflict and handle it in the best ways to ensure that all stakeholders are positively affected by the conflict.  Although dealing with conflict is very challenging, if the conflict is dealt with the right way, all the stakeholders can benefit, like seen in the IT crowd. 

Be sure to check out my next post about communication!   


Cole, William B. "Strategies For Optimal Team Functioning." Peak Performance Solutions. William B. Cole Consultants, 2011. Web. 06 May 2012. < TeamConflict.html>. 

"Improve Leadership - Develop Teams - Increase Staff Satisfaction - All in One On-line Self Service Programme." People Problems. BP2W. Web. 02 May 2012. <http://www.anevenbetterplacetowork. com/people-problems-cost-calculator.html>.  

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    I am a Junior at Marquette University enrolled in the College of Business Administration's Organization and Behavior (MANA 3001) class.  This blog is a way of applying concepts I am learning in class to the outside world.


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