By : Yatish Kuril, CEO/MD/Director, Proponent consulting
Activity: 4 comments 771 views last activity : 07 06 2010 20:18:04 +0000
Conflict among work groups is a common problem in organizations. This scenario depicts an organizational conflict and highlights different conflict management styles. A discussion of these styles and their effectiveness would be valuable for people’s in Management or Organizational Behavior courses studying organizational conflict.
II. Learning Objectives
- To assess project manager’ understanding of the sources of conflict and the conflict process.
- To analyze and evaluate different conflict management styles.
- To identify ways to ensure functional, rather than dysfunctional, conflict occurs.
III. Scenario Description:
Overview: Three months ago, Patrick was given goal of implementing a computerized tracking system on the factory floor with the expectations that it would raise quality control and workflow by a significant percentage. The team spends an enormous amount of time revising/fixing chips after they fail quality control testing – mostly due to lack of information. There would be a serious review of the project after the first phase is complete – that is now.
Patrick is called to a meeting with three top executives. The tracking system project is very costly and has not been proven, although the company was gung-ho, because their competitors were using all sorts of computerized systems in their production facilities. Patrick has spent a little time writing a report, but is feeling generally confident.
· Patrick Bennett is the Managing Supervisor of Production at TechBox, a desktop design software house, who oversees production and supervises a floor of 50 employees.
· Morgan Baines is the Vice President of Distribution. He works at corporate headquarters and builds relationships with potential clients in expanding markets.
· Lucinda Bergen is the Director of Product Management. She oversees all production at TechBox’s manufacturing factories. She works directly with the factory managers and reports to corporate headquarters.
· Sam Adelson is the VP of Operations. His responsibilities include overseeing department managers at the manufacturing factories and corporate headquarters. He also acts as a liaison between his company and the officers of a number of high-end computer companies.
Back History: TechBox produces a specialized computer chip for a large client base of high-end computer companies such as Dell, IBM, and Compaq. Within the TechBox compound are the manufacturing factories and the corporate headquarters.
Patrick Bennett is the new hotshot manager overseeing the production of the main component of the chip. He has started to implement a computerized tracking system to increase quality control and workflow. He supervises a floor of 50 workers. Patrick has been working at TechBox for 2 years and has been widely praised for numerous successes and improvements on the factory floor – improvements with very positive financial results. He is young and motivated, possessing a unique comprehension of production/engineering knowledge and management sensibilities. He is greatly admired by his team and generally received well by top senior management.
Sam Adelson has worked his way up from the mailroom. He does not embrace change and is skeptical of young hot shots and young people in general. He also does not embrace computerized system enhancements, which is odd for a man in high tech. In a nutshell, he’s stodgy, grumpy, and difficult.
Lucinda Bergen is the only female executive at TechBox. She is generally compassionate, understanding, and easy going, but is quick to defend her position within the company and over assert herself when she feels confronted. She is very comfortable with young, talented people and has instituted many technological systems for workflow improvement within her own department.
Morgan Baines is the class clown and jokester of the company. He speaks without thinking – supports, attacks, and withdraws without rhyme or reason. Everyone always has the impression that he’s on their side; the kind of guy who agrees with the last person who spoke. He’s been around very many years, successfully overseeing product distribution – between wisecracks.
Scene Set-up: A meeting is held with key stakeholders of Patrick’s project to discuss the status of it in terms of time and budget.
Scene Location: TechBox conference room
The Meeting - Summary: Stakeholders in the project note their concern with the project going over budget and missing deadlines. Patrick, the project manager, defends himself and assures them that everything will work out because the longest phase of the project is complete. He cites his past track record and says the budget may go over just a little but it will be ok. The other team members say that going over budget is not an option. He concedes and says he will take a look at exactly how he can improve the progress of the project. They agree to meet again in a week for a status check.
One Week Later - Patrick assures the group that they are now firmly under budget and plan to be done on time. Lucinda mentions that Frank, one of Patrick’s employees, said he thought the project was going to be late. Patrick defends himself by saying that Frank’s role would not allow him to be privy to all the information that Patrick knows and that he has this job for a reason – his talent and prior track record. Sam suggests supporting Patrick with an additional staff member. Patrick doesn’t think that would be necessary. Instead he suggests a daily email to the group updating the project in terms of budget and deadlines. They compromise by having the “1st deputy” be responsible for sending those daily emails and keeping track of all the relevant numbers.
Afterthoughts – Summary: Patrick doesn’t think the meeting went very well. He says he didn’t feel listened to and was upset that the group was more persuaded by people indirectly involved in the project than by him. He felt he did ok and tried to work with them on an individual basis. In the second meeting, he said if he hadn’t stood his ground they would have “squished” him.
IV. Discussion Questions:
Learning Objective #1: To assess project manager’s understanding of the sources of conflict and the conflict process.
1. What sources of conflict were present in this scenario?
Many sources of conflict come into to play here. Ambiguous rules may have been a source of conflict because Patrick didn’t seem to think that going over budget a little was going to be a big problem. He found out that that would be completely unacceptable which caused him to reevaluate his costs. Related to the budget – scarce resources may also be a factor contributing to this conflict. The other project members continually stress the need for the project to be on time and under budget. Communications are also contributing to this conflict because people were not actively listening to each other. Also, other communication channels (e.g., Frank) had an impact on the discussion and caused frustration for Patrick.
2. On The Conflict Process, overt behaviors are depicted as indicators of manifest conflict. What overt behaviors did you identify during this scenario?
Lucinda repeatedly rolled her eyes and displayed negative affect towards Patrick. She was also very impatient and insulted Patrick by saying that interrupting him would get him off track. Patrick went on the defensive almost immediately. Adelson maintained composure but insinuated a lack of confidence in Patrick.
´ 1. Patrick’s strategy should be to:
A. Emphasize progress
B. Defend himself
C. Impress superiors
Patrick should emphasize his progress in terms that the rest of the group will understand and be persuaded by. Defending himself based on his reputation will only go so far to influencing the group on this particular issue. Emphasizing his progress will impress his superiors. In actuality, Patrick defended himself based on his past reputation.
´ 2. What does Sam Adelson insinuate about Patrick [when he calls him a
A. He’s arrogant
B. He’s incompetent
C. He’s inexperienced
Adelson insinuates that Patrick is inexperienced, though apparently competent. The comment falls short of actually signifying confidence in Patrick.
´ 3. How was this [first] meeting?
A. A success
B. A failure
C. A good start
Patrick thinks it was a failure because he did not feel supported or listened to.
Learning Objective #2: To analyze and evaluate different conflict management styles.
- Various conflict management styles are depicted . For each of the participants in the scenario, describe which style(s) they used and cite examples to support your answer.
Lucinda – Competing – she doesn’t seem to want to listen to Patrick’s position or reasoning and puts roadblocks up to any suggestion that is not her own.
Sam – Compromises – he tries to give Patrick more support which is initially rejected but then reinforces Patrick’s daily email idea with a person to perform that function
Patrick – attempts Competing in that he rejects any suggestions for changing the current situation. He eventually attempts to compromise with the daily email idea. In the end he seems to accommodate to the rest of the group in accepting additional help.
Morgan – Avoidance – he really stays out of any substantive discussion on this project.
´ 4. How should Patrick respond [when Lucinda says “Frank says you will need an additional 3 weeks’]?
A. Defame Frank
B. Provide facts
C. Admit fault
Patrick indirectly defames Frank by saying he is in a lower-level position for a reason. A more persuasive technique would have been to provide facts to refute Frank’s claim. If Frank was correct, than Patrick should have admitted fault.
Learning Objective #3: To identify ways to ensure functional, rather than dysfunctional, conflict occurs.
- Review the Structural Approaches to Conflict Management . Several approaches to minimizing dysfunctional conflict are provided. Identify at least two specific actions taken by members of the group to minimize dysfunctional conflict.
Clarify rules and procedures – Patrick suggests a daily email to keep the group posted on the project. This will minimize conflict by continually monitoring the situation so there are no surprises.
Increase resources – Sam offered to provide Patrick with a #2 deputy to assist him in managing the project.
- Choose two approaches and provide specific examples of what could have been done in this scenario to reduce dysfunctional conflict.
The superordinate goals that all members share should have been discussed up front. This guides the discussion and ensures that information provided is maximally influential to other group members.
Improve communication and understanding – group members should have tried to take the others’ perspectives. Many behaviors indicated that people were not actively listening and had pre-determined ideas on the best course of action and were not willing to change.
´ 5. Confidence is low. Patrick should:
A. Fight back
B. Accept help
C. Clarify position
It’s unclear why Patrick is resistant to accept help other than to preserve his ego. Generally resources are difficult to acquire and he is being offered another staff person to help him. Ultimately he does accept the help but at first he refuses.
´ 6. How should Patrick respond?
A. Refuse offer
B. Change approach
C. Accept offer
Once it is established that he will maintain control over the project, he agrees to the offer.