Types of Organizational Conflict

by Ruth Mayhew ; Updated December 10, 2018
Office life

When conflict arises in business, depending on the size of the organization and the level of conflict, your business could be in serious trouble. Organizational conflict takes on many forms; from tangible, finance-related conflict to intangible, morale-based conflict among employees, or between staff and leadership. Whatever the reason, resolving conflict within the organization can happen only after recognizing and acknowledging the conflict, considering the various perspectives of the employees, teams and leadership involved and managing tempers.

Employee-Employee Conflict

Even if there are just two individual employees in conflict, it can divide their team into two factions, each supporting one employee over the other. This one-on-one conflict has the potential to affect employee morale and job satisfaction unless there are concerted efforts by the supervisor and the employees to resolve their differences. Informal mediation or a facilitated discussion between the two employees may be one way to resolve the conflict, however, both parties have to be willing to engage in candid and honest conversations.

Employee-Supervisor Conflict

Similar to the conflict between two employees, employee-supervisor conflict can also cause friction among team members. There will inevitably be employees who side with their peers, as well as employees who see the supervisor's point of view. In this case, employees who appear to be on the supervisor's side may be accused of brown-nosing simply because of the dynamics of the supervisor-employee relationships in many work environments. Supervisors who cannot manage or resolve conflict with an employee or a group of employees may ask for assistance from a manager or the human resources department.

Video of the Day

Brought to you by Techwalla
Brought to you by Techwalla

Departmental Conflict

Departmental conflict or the conflict that arises between the organization's functional areas is common, mainly when departmental goals differ. For example, suppose the accounting department is in dire need of qualified employees. The accounting manager may not recognize the diligent efforts that the human resources department is making to recruit applicants. She thinks that HR isn't moving fast enough to get people on board. In this case, the operational area of the organization – the accounting department – might insist that HR streamline the recruitment and selection process so the company can quickly onboard new employees. HR, on the other hand, is doing all it can to recruit more qualified applicants but doesn't have the resources to do more.

It's possible that HR may require a more in-depth knowledge of the accounting field when it comes to recruiting applicants with accounting expertise. However, on the other hand, the accounting manager may not be fully aware of the many steps HR must take in the selection process.

In matters like this, the conflict may be resolved by each department explaining their respective positions. Hopefully, a thorough explanation of the HR department processes and the accounting department staffing needs will lead to a resolution that satisfies both parties.

Employees-Management Conflict

When the employees and management team clash, one of the outcomes of this type of conflict may be union-organizing attempts by the employees. Employees who are dissatisfied with working conditions such as pay, benefits or hours might seek the assistance of a labor union, or they might engage in collective action on their own before going to a labor union for help. In this case, the conflict can rise to the level of a formal organizing campaign during which employees seeking to form a union see the company's management team as adversaries. This conflict can be costly for the organization since it's expensive to fund a union-avoidance campaign, in addition to the lost productivity if employees stage a walkout or work-stoppage to protest unfair working conditions.

About the Author

Ruth Mayhew has been writing since the mid-1980s, and she has been an HR subject matter expert since 1995. Her work appears in "The Multi-Generational Workforce in the Health Care Industry," and she has been cited in numerous publications, including journals and textbooks that focus on human resources management practices. She holds a Master of Arts in sociology from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Ruth resides in the nation's capital, Washington, D.C.

Cite this Article A tool to create a citation to reference this article Cite this Article