Office Space – Change on the New Space: Case Study

The new space is a real change from what the programmers are used to. Their old space was a big open room with one wall of floor-to-ceiling windows. Their desks all faced each other, which allowed them to easily talk and collaborate with one another. The new office space has a row of five cubicles along a wall in a long, narrow room. Four of the cubicles have windows; the fifth, which is slightly larger than the others, is tucked into a windowless corner. The cubicle walls are 6 feet tall, and when they are at their desks working, the programmers can no longer see one another.

The team leader, Martin, assigned the cubicles that each programmer has moved into. He put himself in the first cubicle with Rosa, Sanjay, and Kris in the next three cubicles with windows. Bradley was given the larger cubicle in the corner.

Bradley is the first to complain. When he sees his new space, he goes to Martin and asks for a different cubicle, one with a window. He argues that he has been employed there longer than the other programmers and should get to choose his cubicle rather than be told where he is going to be. Because he and Martin work very closely on a number of projects, Bradley feels he should be in the cubicle next to Martin, rather than the one farthest away.

Sanjay is also upset. He is in the middle cubicle with Rosa and Kris on either side of him. Rosa and Kris used to have desks next to each other in the bigger space and would banter back and forth with one another while working. Now that they are in the row of cubicles, they still try to chat with one another, but to do so, they more or less shout to each other over Sanjay’s space. When Martin offers to let him trade places with Bradley as a solution, Sanjay says he doesn’t want to give up his window.

Martin leaves everyone where they are. He hasn’t told them, but he purposely put Sanjay between Rosa and Kris in order to discourage their constant chatting, which he viewed as a time-wasting activity. Martin also felt like the larger cube was better for Bradley because he has more computer equipment than the other programmers.

During the next two months, the web programming department starts to experience a lot of tension. Sanjay seems to be in a bad mood on a daily basis. When Rosa and Kris start chatting with each other over the cubicles, he asks them loudly, “Will you please just work and stop shouting to each other?” or says sarcastically, “I’m trying to work here!” As a result, either Rosa or Kris will leave her cubicle to walk down to the other’s space to chat, having conversations that last longer than their old bantering back and forth used to.

Bradley stays in his corner cubicle and avoids talking to the other programmers. He believes that Martin purposely gave him what Bradley perceives is the worst cubicle but doesn’t know what he did to deserve being treated this way. He is resentful of the other staff members who have windows in their cubicles and feels like Martin must think more highly of Rosa, Kris, and Sanjay than he does of Bradley. As Bradley observes Rosa and Kris spending more time talking and less time working and the crabbiness from Sanjay, he becomes very upset with Martin. It seems Martin is rewarding the programmers who behave the worst!

Bradley becomes even more reclusive at work and avoids talking to the other programmers, especially Martin. He communicates with them mainly by email messages, even though he’s only a few yards away from some of them. He no longer collaborates closely with Martin; instead he tries to work on projects without involving Martin. Unfortunately, if he encounters a problem that he needs Martin’s help for, Bradley will try to solve it himself. Often, Martin won’t even know there is a problem that needs to be solved until Bradley realizes he can’t solve it alone and the problem becomes a crisis.

The only time all five of the programmers actually see one another is in weekly staff meetings, which are held in a conference room with a large table and a dozen chairs. In their old space, they didn’t have weekly meetings because they were able to talk about projects and schedules with each other whenever it was needed. In their new staff meetings, it seems like Martin is doing all the talking. Rosa and Kris sit on one side of the table and try to ignore Sanjay who sits by himself across from them. Bradley sits at the far end of the table at least two chairs away from everyone else.

After another unproductive staff meeting where no one spoke or looked at one another, Martin sits at the head of the conference table after the other programmers have left with his head in his hands. He doesn’t know what has happened to the cohesive team he used to lead and why things changed. It seems absolutely ridiculous to him that this is all about space.

The conflict that has arisen between the members of the Web programming department

Martin is right that space is not a real problem; it worked more as a catalyst. The new working place condition aroused dissatisfaction and misunderstanding between the Web programming team. It is a typical intragroup conflict that is not managed appropriately to mitigate disagreements and harmonize different personalities. This relational conflict also highlights groupism, the process when individuals form restricted groups within a larger group.

Is the conflict a relational conflict? If so, what type of relational conflict? Is there a content dimension to this conflict?

It is a relational conflict between the staff members which produce other issues. The conflict stems from a disagreement with Martin, who assigned new working places. It triggered various personality conflicts, stonewalling, and misconceptions among the programmers. For instance, Sanjay is not happy with Kris and Rosa’s conduct, while Bradley began to mistrust Martin.

Separation the people from the problem, using Fisher and Ury’s method of principled negotiation

Fisher and Ury’s principled negotiation method consists of four steps to produce a wise and mutual solution. It requires separation of the individuals from the issue, focusing on interest rather than positions, the invention of options for mutual gain, and establishing target measures (Northouse, 296). Point by point conversations with each team member and choosing new working places by themselves will help separate staffers’ emotions from the real issue. I believe what is going on in this conflict is a lack of understanding and alignment between programmers that hindered their performance.

Characterization of Sanjay’s conflict style, using the Kilmann and Thomas conflict styles. What about Bradley’s, Rosa and Kris?

Sanjay represents the avoidance conflict style as he initially was happy with the new cubicle with a window. Although Sanjay is continuously disturbed by Kris and Rosa, he is unassertive and uncooperative, choosing to blame others and waiting for top-down assistance. In terms of Bradley, his conflict style is competitive as he opposes Martin’s decision and demands another space in line with his experience and status. Nevertheless, Bradley opted to feel aggrieved and underperform instead of being cooperative. Kris and Rosa also represent avoidance conflict style as they avoid communication with Sanjay, who is not happy with their chatting. Instead of working on conflict resolution, they get up to talk with each other, wasting more time than before.

How could Martin use fractionation and face saving in attempting to resolve this conflict?

Fractionation is an approach to break the threatening conflict into smaller and separate issues. In this case, the relational problem between executives (Martin) and senior (Bradley) should be resolved separately from Sanjay’s disturbance issue. Face saving is needed during group meetings to present workers’ points of view, avoiding criticism or offend targeting others. It will help resolve the problems, better understand each other, and restore positive group relationships.

Work Cited

Northouse, Peter G. Introduction to Leadership: Concepts and Practice. 5th ed., Sage, 2020.

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