What Happens When The Music Stops? – Managing Conflict


One of the most critical moments for an organization is that point when a crisis looms. It might be brought on by a resource issue, and hard decisions had to be made about the way forward. Or, it could be because the organization just spent some time trying to figure out what was value added and what was not, resulting in a re-organization.

 Most organizations are divided up into several recognizable chunks.  There are people who spend money, and people who pay bills.  There are people who directly do the work of the organization, and those who support them.  Other people keep the electronics working, and of course, another group manages all of this, to some end.

So, the decision having been made, out come the long knives.  The eating of young begins to take place as each constituency spends valuable time (that they may not have) focusing on what happened and trying to place blame.  Blame then devolves into finger-pointing and fairly hostile and unhelpful discussions about who is most important and second guessing decisions made by management.

If you are a manager, and if you are part of these discussions, then shame on you. This is your moment to show that all the leadership training you were given, or sought on your own, was not wasted time. You are part of a larger team of managers and supervisors who are responsible to each other and the organization.  This would be a great time to act like it.  Fueling the fires of interdepartmental rivalry is not a smooth move, not in the best interest of the team, and adds zero to the challenge ahead.  Considering that you were likely part of the higher level discussion, and thus know the back story on things, it’s even more egregious.

If you recognize this stuff for what it is, and understand you need to intervene now and send the right message, consider some ways to nip this self-destructive behavior in the bud.  BackstabbingTake personal feelings or agendas out of it.  Sacred cows are huge roadblocks to organizational development.  Get your team to look at the inevitable outcomes of dysfunction, rivalry, and backstabbing.  This is a great time to reconnect that thing we do to the purpose of the organization.  What is gained or lost if the mission or purpose isn’t fulfilled?

SacredCowThis is also an opportunity to look at, agree on, and amend if necessary, the values of the organization.  What behaviors and principles will support our success?  Is it possible to put the interests of the organization ahead of personal ones? 

Conflict can be good.  It leads to resolution, agreements, and shared information.  It can also focus attention on what is important.  However, conflict over turf and title, and between departments with entirely different functions, can be pointless, distracting, and mission-ending.  If someone depends on your organization for their life, welcome to Failsville, population: You.

Old McD