Tribal Warfare in Organizations: Turning Tribal Conflict into Negotiated Peaceby Peg C. Neuhauser
When the marketing department complains about the production staff, or the sales force makes promises customer service says it can't deliver, this is tribal warfare those interdepartmental conflicts that form one of the biggest and most costly productivity problems in organizations. Understanding how to recognize and deal with tribal conflict becomes
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When the marketing department complains about the production staff, or the sales force makes promises customer service says it can't deliver, this is tribal warfare those interdepartmental conflicts that form one of the biggest and most costly productivity problems in organizations. Understanding how to recognize and deal with tribal conflict becomes extremely important for company survival and growth. Peg Neuhauser shows how to bridge the gap between factions that inevitably arise in organizations and lessen tribal warfare, lower employee stress, improve managerial effectiveness and promote higher productivity.
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Tribes In Conflict
Turf Protection in Organizations
Managers spend anywhere from 25 to 60 percent of their working day dealing with conflicts or fallout from people-related problems. Whenever people are gathered together to work as a group, conflict is one of the inevitable outcomes. The conflicts can range from a simple misunderstanding between colleagues about the time of a meeting to a serious battle between Sales and Production over the importance of filling a customer order for an expensive and highly customized version of a standard product. Some conflicts are nothing more than a minor irritant for the employees involved, but many of the more serious problems continue over a period of time and require a great deal of management effort to resolve. Conflict is a major source of increased stress and decreased productivity for all managers and employees in any department of any organization. It almost always ends up affecting the quality of services received by customers.
It is difficult to measure the financial cost of conflict in an organization, but it is no doubt very high. If you calculate the hourly pay for your management staff and then use the conservative 25 percent figure for the amount of time spent dealing with conflict, the yearly cost is staggering. For example, think about a medium-sized company with 1,000 employees and approximately 100 people in some kind of management role. If those managers' salaries average $40,000 a year, you have a "conflict cost" to the organization of $1 million per year. And this onlyaccounts for management time. The cost ofemployee time, increased turnover rates, mistakes, and missed business opportunities would need to be factored in to come up with an accurate conflict cost. For large companies that practice "state-of-the-art" conflict-corporate politics the cost runs far beyond 25 percent of managers' salaries.Conflict is inevitable in any organization. But it is important that conflict be recognized and dealt with, instead of ignored and swept under the rug. Some amount of management and employee time will always need to be devoted to handling conflicts. If conflict is ignored or denied, it will fester and erupt later in much more serious ways. Then it will usually take even more time and the involvement of even more people to resolve. How much time and how effectively this time is used are the negotiable issues. Organizations that can bring various departments and specialized functions together to work as a well-functioning team do experience conflict. But they usually handle conflict in the quickest way possible, with a minimal number of people involved, and with the best outcome for the organization.
What Is All This Conflict?
"This is a good place to work. Most of the people here know their jobs and are reasonable to work with. It's just that we've got a few difficult people around here. People whose personalities stink! If you could get rid of those people, everything would be fine."
These comments are some of the most common that are heard when employees discuss communication problems and conflict in their organizations. Marketing doesn't get along with Manufacturing... the nurses don't like the doctors... Finance can't understand why the designers will not stay on schedule and within budget... the marketing people insist on making promises that the service department can't deliver... and on and on. What is going on here? Are these problems really about personality conflicts? If they are, they are going to be very difficult to resolve. Personalities do not change easily. But there is another, more effective, solution to the problem of conflict in organizations.
Any organization with specialized functions and departments is made up of groups which I call "tribes" that look at their work and at the organization in very different ways. Anthropologically, these groups in organizations act very much like "real" tribes; they have theirown dialects, values, histories, ways of thinking, and rules for appropriate behavior. What if we took some Apaches, Cherokees, and Pygmies, added a few Japanese and Germans plus a Texan or two and then said to this group, "Now go work together and get the job done!" No one would be surprised if tribal warfare broke out in this group. And yet in many ways, this is exactly what happens in most organizations today. When we create an organization or business, we pull people together from a wide range of specialities and backgrounds, put them in a building, and expect them to work together and get the job done.
Edward T. Hall, a well-known anthropologist who has written extensively on intercultural communication, tells us that each tribe or culture has its own rules that govern its thinking and behavior and that these rules usually operate at a subconscious level. Psychologist and consultant Lealand Kaiser says that each individual or group has its own "reality." Each tribe assumes that their "reality" is the only one or at least the only one that is right! Speaking of other tribes, each will say something like this: "Yes, I can see that they are different from us. But they aren't just different, they are wrong! And furthermore, they know that their way of doing things causes us problems, so they must be doing it on purpose to drive us nuts!"
Each tribe has predictable complaints about the others. The accounting tribe complains about the departments that are always going over budget or forgetting to fill out purchase orders before going on spending sprees. The back office operations tribe complains about departments that never fill out forms accurately and are always missing, deadlines. The sales tribe complains about departments that respond slowly to customers. Each tribe is convinced that its own way of operating is right and that all those "other people" are messing up the works.In his book, Beyond Culture, Hall gives a wonderful description of the opinions that members of different cultures often have about each other. He says each group takes the position of "thinking and feeling that anyone whose behavior is not predictable or is peculiar in any way is slightly out of his mind, improperly brought up, irresponsible, psychopathic, politically motivated to a point beyond redemption, or just plain inferior."
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Peg C. Neuhauser is a communications consultant who specializes in working with business in the areas of team building and conflict management. She is the owner and principal consultant of PCN Associates in Boston, Massachusetts. Her clients include major American corporations from industries such as manufacturing, health care, finance, and telecommunications.
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