Conflict in the North East Sales Division

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Executive Summary

Organizational conflicts can be counterproductive if not properly handled. Research has tried to find the best ways to resolve workplace disputes and has found that it all begins with effective leadership in conflict management. Structural causes are manifested through aspects such as task design, job interdependencies, differences in status, and goal and orientation differences across the company. Resolving such conflicts may require structural solutions, including the implementation of a better framework for managing the problem. Additionally, negotiation using neutral parties can allow the clashing individuals to express themselves and find amicable solutions. There may also be a change required in behavior either among individuals or through a modification in the entire organizational culture. Whichever approach is selected, the disputes must be resolved to prevent detriments such as dwindling performance.

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Introduction

For decades, industrial relations scholars have tried to examine ways in which to resolve grievances within employment relationships between employees and employers. Additionally, there has been massive progress in studying the root causes of workplace conflicts and the means of solving them (Lewin, 2016). Conflicts can be costly if not resolved as established by Howatt (2015). The human resource department in an organization is tasked with handling these conflicts. The responses to disputes are often subject to organizational factors such as culture and personal factors, for example, emotion regulation among others (Oore, Leiter, & LeBlanc, 2015; Gunkel, Schlaegel, & Taras, 2016). This report examines the team conflict in the Northeast Sales Division where employees have blamed each other for various issues (Anderson, 2018). The focus will be on structural causes of the conflict and the lack of collaboration in the company, as well as the contribution of individual behaviors towards the escalating situation. Lastly, a recommendation of how to improve the situation will be presented.

Structural Conflict and Lack of Collaboration

Organizational structures can be one of the major sources of conflict within the workplace. There is adequate literature showing that the design tasks and authority relationships, which are among the major defining features of organizational structure, may fuel disputes among the staff (O’Sullivan, 2017; Longe, 2015). The structural causes of workplace skirmish include work interdependence, differences in unit goals and orientation, differences in the reward system and performance criteria, status, and mutual dependence on scarce resources among others (Osabiya, 2015; Dolan & Lingham, 2020). Additionally, factors such as leadership can be considered as structural, especially when factoring in aspects such as organizational hierarchy. Leadership is an aspect of authority relationships and one of the major determinants of how well employees integrate (Stamarski & Hing, 2015). With this background to structural causes, the conflicts in the Northeast Sales Division can be outlined.

The organizational structure of the North East (NE) division comprises the vice president at the top, below whom sales directors work. The directors are only classified according to the states they serve and they are all at the same level. In other words, the structure is horizontal with only one level difference between the directors and the vice president. Renee serves New York and Pennsylvania, Peres handles Massachusetts, Tracey is responsible for Rhode Island and Connecticut, and Gray works with New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine (Anderson, 2018). Lastly, Melissa is in operations and compensation meaning her job is to monitor and control the functions of all other directors. This is despite her function being on the same organizational level as the sales directors. According to Osabiya (2015) work interdependence, differences in unit goals and orientation, and varied status within a firm are critical determinants of workplace disputes. All these three aspects are visible within the NE division.

In terms of work interdependencies, the four sales directors depend on the operations and compensation director headed by Melissa. Melissa was hired by Neil, the vice president of the division because she works by the book and was best suited to instill discipline in the division. The work of the sales directors is approved and rewarded by Melissa whose checks and controls have been seen as limiting the progress of the sales directors (Anderson, 2018). Being on the sales organizational level means no authority hierarchy between them, which allows the sales directors to directly attack Melissa for her rules. On her part, Melissa has alleviated the legal problems that the company has faced due to irresponsible salespersons. Additionally, the compliance mechanisms implemented have prevented losses from unwarranted commissions to salespeople who now get paid only when they make a sale. Melissa has the support of Neil, and indeed the rules are approved by him. However, instead of attacking the vice president, the organizational structure makes Melissa an easier target because the consequences of those attacks are minor.

The differences in unit goals and orientation are another structural cause of workplace conflict observed in the NE division. As explained above, the operations and compensation seek to achieve discipline within the division. On the other hand, all the sales divisions focus on improving their sales performance because doing so also improves their rewards (Anderson, 2018). Implementing discipline has been the focus of the vice president, a vision pursued through the operations and compensation. Melissa has had to reject orders and force the salespersons to resubmit others. The rejected orders mean sales not made and commission not paid. However, the rules are intended to protect the company, but the sales directors feel the regulations are made to punish them. As such, this structural factor is coupled with behavioral aspects that will be discussed later.

Status is another structural issue fueling disputes in the NE division. As explained by Osabiya (2015), differences in position within an organization may make some employees envious of others. In the NE division, however, the employees fighting each other are on the same level. The status, however, is only perceived with Renee feeling superior to the rest because of her sales performance (Anderson, 2018). The other directors do not have the same perception of status even though they share the same feeling towards Melissa. Melissa, on the other hand, is seen as working directly with Neil, which places her above the other sales director. Her refusal to be manipulated by the directors, which was the same reason why Savanna quit the job, is a major contributor to the situation at the NE division.

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Leadership is also seen as a structural issue where authority relationships lead to clashes. According to Stamarski and Hing (2015), leaders are the ones who set the culture, policy, and strategy of the firm. Neil is responsible for the conflict because of his new concerns regarding discipline and in bestowing all the power upon Melissa. Neil does not prefer conflict and this is the reason why he lets Melissa deal with the sales directors in approving orders (Anderson, 2018). The rules are set and/or approved by Neil and implemented by Melissa. However, there is no information about how the new rules are communicated to the directors. This is the major reason why the directors are dissatisfied with both Melissa and Neil. However, some directors, specifically Leo, have no issues with Melissa because they understand organizational politics. Leo had invited one of Melissa’s team members to explain the rules, and his team has since learned to abide by the rules. This means, therefore, that leadership failures are accompanied by behavioral factors.

The lack of collaboration within the NE division is explained by the conflicts and differences in goals and orientation. Organizations today tend to seek improved workplace collaboration meaning managers have been forced to make organizational changes (Bernstein & Turban, 2018). Literature has shown that collaboration improves the performance of teams and the entire organization (Assbeihat, 2016; Sanyal & Hisam, 2018). At the NE division, collaboration is affected by the fact that each division is competing with one another for sales and other objectives. The sales divisions seek more transactions and more commission while operations and compensation seek discipline. Additionally, the leadership has failed to mitigate the conflict and to instill a culture of collaboration. While the division should be working as a team, the lack of collaboration has seen each work independently setting their own goals and targets. The rules and policies should be set together so that they can address all interests. However, one group makes the rules that pursue its interests and hinder the performances of the others. This eliminates the chances of good team performance across the division.

Individual Behaviors

Studies of conflict behavior have identified those individual behaviors which do not help resolve disputes. Such behaviors are destructive because they act as a barrier to resolution. According to Yasmin (2017), some of the skirmishes in the workplace are the result of conduct such as ‘half-listening’ where one party fails to consider what the other has to say. This behavior is unhelpful because such problems are handled more effectively when each party in the conflict understands each other. At the NE division, Renee is the person most unwilling to listen to Melissa and the new rules being implemented. Melissa has adopted an approach different from her predecessor who quit as a result of too much pressure from the sales directors. She comes with a new personality and authority that fails to please the board. However, the operations and compensation function has always been responsible for the approval of orders. Rather than listening to the rules, the directors attack Melissa without acknowledging their commitment to discipline. Indeed, Renee admitted that her department submitted an erroneous order which was rejected instead of Melissa’s team simply correcting the error and approving the order.

Half-listening, as described above, has only meant that the division does create a mechanism for solving disputes. Such behaviors are destructive and only tend to worsen the situation. Besides half-listening, the conflict at the division extends to other detrimental behaviors such as animosity and hostility towards other employees. These actions are classified by Omisore and Abiodun (2015) and Gigol and Sypniewska (2019) as relationship conflicts where interpersonal incompatibilities result in animosity, annoyance, resentment, and negative emotions. Although not much is said about the predecessor to Melissa, it can be inferred that the directors did not have the same problems with her because she did not enforce laws vigorously as Melissa did. The animosity towards Melissa is shown by Renee more than any other director. Other directors also acknowledge that despite having problems with Melissa, they do not approve of Renee’s actions and behaviors towards her. If there is any inappropriate behavior in the division, therefore, Renee is the intolerable one.

The resentment by Renee towards Melissa is not necessarily because she is affected the most by the laws. However, Renee is seen as jealous of Melissa’s perceived relationship with Neil. She feels that Neil always supports her whenever she wants to implement a new rule. Renee believes that Neil does not want to do anything about the situation because he has delegated his job to Melissa (Anderson, 2018). As explained above regarding the status differences, the resentment behavior does not help the situation. Indeed, the correct approach for Renee is to try and understand the rationale for Neil’s and Melissa’s actions and support the implementation of discipline among the salespeople. Leo’s actions are the best example of how resentment can be replaced by rationality because he has worked with his and Melissa’s teams to implement the rules. His team, therefore, has the least problems with Melissa’s group.

The term ‘toxic’ has been used by Neil to describe Renee’s behavior towards Melissa. It is argued herein that toxic behavior is not helpful because it only fuels conflicts further rather than addressing the conflict. Literature regarding such behaviors has established that toxic behaviors at workplaces undermine performance (Anjum, Ming, Siddiqi, & Rasool, 2018). Other studies explain that there are two types of workplace, one being collaborative and the other being toxic (Günüşen, Wilson, & Aksoy, 2017; Anjum, et al., 2018). A toxic work environment is characterized by abrasive behavior where staff aggression is manifested by employees not filtering what they say and how they say it (Williams, et al., 2019). Perez, for example, is not afraid to state that Melissa’s team treats them like children. Having worked with Neil for 10 years, he states that there is nothing he can expect from Neil because Neil prefers to avoid conflict (Anderson, 2018). These sentiments are evidence of a toxic workplace environment and abrasive behavior.

Toxic behaviors are detrimental to conflict resolution because they prevent negotiation. When Melissa walks in on Renee talking about her, the way they address the issues is wrong. Renee is not seeking explanations regarding the new rules, and she prefers to make her conclusions that the rules are targeted at her team. Melissa, on the other hand, is not interested in explaining the rules and how they serve the best interests of the company. With the toxic environment, resentment and hostility mean the two parties cannot come to a mutual agreement.

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Improving the Situation

The question of how the situation at the NE division can be improved can be answered by considering literature regarding conflict workplace resolution. Negotiation has been expressed as a major means of addressing disputes (Kleef & Cote, 2018; Groves, Feyerherm, & Gu, 2015). However, the effectiveness of negotiations will depend on several factors, the most important being the willingness of the parties to amicably address the conflict. Toxic behaviors are deemed to be the greatest barrier to resolution. Therefore, the first step in improving the situation at the NE division is to get all the directors on the same page regarding the issues that need to be agreed upon. An initiative towards this objective can be seen with Neil’s decision to engage with the human resource manager whose intervention will be key. Neil, being the leader, could be seen as the person most responsible for the conflict. However, considering that he has a stake in the dispute and his decisions could be biased towards some interests, it can be considered a wise decision to bring in a neutral party in the HR.

Conducting negotiations, however, will not work without Neil’s input and intervention. This is because he is the leader, and he has to show the way. As mentioned above, the leaders are responsible for the rules and policies followed by an organization (Stamarski & Hing, 2015). Neil bestows power upon Melissa to make some of the rules, but he is the one who approves their implementation. Neil has failed as a leader in that he has not explained his new mission to enforce discipline within the division. Any attempts by Melissa to make the division more responsible is, therefore, seen as an effort to undermine the sales directors. After getting all parties to agree to solve the issues, Neil should then proceed to explain the rules and their necessity. Additionally, he and Melissa should explain how each rule affects the sales operations and how the directors and their teams can adapt their practice. The approach used by Leo is again used here as the best example of how the situation can be improved. In other words, the directors need to seek explanations and embrace the rules rather than fighting them.

Leadership at the NE division needs to be improved and made more responsible. Literature regarding the effects of leadership on conflict management reveals that effective leadership significantly improves conflict management outcomes (Erzen & Armagan, 2015). Management should have established the proper mechanisms with which to address all concerns. However, Neil is aware that the rule change will affect the compensation of the sales directors and the salespeople. He fails to inform them beforehand meaning they only know about new rules when they have been implemented and affected them. Proper leadership should also enhance communication within the division. Renee and Melissa used to talk to each other, but things changed upon her promotion. Now every communication between them is through emails which complicate the conflict. With modern technologies, phone messages and calls are easier means of getting messages across, especially more urgent messages.

The job of salespeople is considered to be high-stress which can affect their performance and interpersonal conflict. The emotional demands in this career and the number of interactions can lead to strain and deteriorating job performance (Mulki, Jaramillo, Goad, & Pesquera, 2015). The ability to manage their emotions can determine how much they succeed in their functions and how they manage conflicts. Melissa’s predecessor, for example, quit because she could not handle the pressure of the job (Anderson, 2018). This is an indication that the NE division is a workplace where employees can be emotionally stressed. Neil and Freda (HR manager) are responsible for the implementation of emotional regulation tools within the division. One of the expected outcomes of such tools includes the improved temper by directors such as Renee and a cooler workplace environment where amicable solutions can be pursued. The level of toxicity can be seen as the result of employees failing to control their temper and having the freedom to tear into each other.

If the nature of the conflict is more personal the employees can always be made to resolve the differences and forgive each other. According to Toussaint, Luskin, Aberman, and DeLorenzo (2019), forgiveness can be one of the secrets to success and the elimination of workplace disharmony. None of the employees explains anything personal against any other besides the fact that the approach used by Renee is not appreciated by Melissa, Neil, and the other directors. Therefore, digging deeper into the matter and resolving any personal issues will massively improve the situation.

Conclusion

This report has examined the conflicts in the NE division and established that the disputes are majorly structural. Most importantly, the orientation and goal differences are major problems. This is because the operations and compensation seek to improve discipline while the sales units focus on improving trades volume. Status differences and job interdependencies have contributed significantly. Additionally, weak and ineffective leadership has allowed the situation to worsen with Neil opting to avoid conflict. Improving the situation, as recommended above, will need better leadership and negotiation.

References

Anderson, D. (2018). “I just can’t work with her:” Team conflict in the Northeast Sales Division Case. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

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