How does conflict management improve productivity?
Many studies over the years have shown that conflict in the workplace often has a negative impact on productivity. Previous studies have shown that interpersonal and inter-group (departments for example) conflict can frequently result in individuals or factions refusing to co-operate and withdrawing in subtle and often hidden ways from collaborative working. This almost always impacts productivity. Just at a very basic level time, focus and energy is taken up discussing and sharing (spreading/heightening) the negative emotions creating a negative distraction. The correct conflict management processes can help to improve productivity – here’s how…
Organisations frequently invest in conflict management training and conflict handling processes to mitigate against the effects of conflict in the workplace. So if conflict management practices worked you would expect that they also would have a positive effect on productivity.
Research just published asked whether conflict management within teams does actually improve output and productivity?
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In small teams such as information systems workers, intra-team (within teams) conflict can have a significant negative effect on output.
The whole purpose of team working is to increase the productivity and output over and above what they can achieve as separate individuals. There are additional benefits to team working such as enhanced confidence, comfort, feelings of belonging and ownership and often a sense of identity which further enhances productivity.
Two primary principles of good team operation are goal setting and collaboration. Set your goals and work together to achieve those goals. Intra-team conflict however often undermines both of these components. Conflict also has a significant negative impact on the identity of the group. Where conflict arises for whatever reason, the researchers make the point that: “The undermining of identification is likely to diminish the intra-team facilitative processes of collaboration and goal setting, which are central to performance.”
Any negative bearing on both goal-setting and collaborative working has a clear and direct adverse influence on productivity.
Where intra-team conflict arises mediation is often required. The study looked at the mechanisms by which mediation could improve output in times of intra-team conflict.
How does mediation work?
The aim of the mediation was to improve collaboration first and not goal-setting initially. The paper states, “Relationship conflict, by adding “noise” to intra-team social exchange, undermined the mechanisms necessary for goal formation, thereby undermining the goal formation itself.”
The research also found that goal setting could be improved through improved collaboration.
So in effect the conflict resolution process is aimed at improving collaborative working first. Once this has been achieved to some extent, then the common goals of the team are examined and formed as a collective. Once there is a common goal, collaboration and communication then tends to improve further.
Interestingly, it was found that conflict management does not always fix the relationship problem between the various parties, but it does enable them to ‘see over’ the relationships and focus on the work at hand. Trying to resolve interpersonal differences, it was found is not always successful, can take significant time and counter-productively moves the focus away from the work at hand.
The ideal conflict management process
So the conflict management process is:
- Examine and develop collaborative practices, followed by
- Team goals, followed by
- Refocus on collaborative practices.
This conflict management process, it was found, has a significant positive impact on production.
As part of their conclusions the researchers recommend that productivity can be enhanced in organisations through a team of specialist mediators who can help teams develop collaborative practices and behaviours and then set team goals. After which the mediators can work with the teams to help the team work together through coaching and mentoring to achieve their goals together.
Reference – available to members
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