A department within Company Z failed to deliver a project on time, affecting other departments and resulting in a public conflict within it.
Given the nature of the conflict and multiple members of the department involved in it, several symptoms should be discussed:
- Frustration with the department’s management expressed by the heads of other departments;
- A loss of credibility by the creative director Matthew;
- Public humiliation of Elizabeth, who was initially blamed for the project not being delivered on time;
- Elizabeth submitting a discrimination complaint, as she was the newest employee working on the project;
- Disillusionment with the company’s culture by Elizabeth;
- James and Corey’s breach of confidentiality due to openly discussing the conflict with employees of other departments;
- Accusations of sexism were raised by other female employees on behalf of Elizabeth.
There are multiple protagonists involved in the conflict between the departments. Matthew Jordison, the creative director, has held this post since 2013. Initially, he joined the company as a graphic designer and quickly rose through the ranks to art director in 2016 and his latest position in 2019. Matthew is well-respected within the company and is described by other managers as “a true leader.” It is worth noting that he attended college with both James and Corey.
James Root is a senior advertising designer in the company. He was recruited in 2013 and is a diligent worker. James has no complaints filed against him during his time in the company and is often put in charge of various projects, with three not being delivered on time. The investigation into the previous projects showed a lack of communication between James and junior designers. One of the designers in question has since left the company.
Corey Wilson is a senior advertising designer who joined the company in 2014. Corey was invited to interview for the position by Matthew Jordison, the department manager. He worked on several small projects for the company, including one under the management of James. Corey is described as a talented designer with “great imagination and a creative streak.” However, there are several complaints filed against him regarding his professional conduct.
Elizabeth Hale is an advertising designer and the newest full-time member of the department. She joined the company in early 2019 and came highly recommended. She worked for the company in a freelance capacity before and was unsure about joining it full-time. The previous assignments Elizabeth worked on were all solo projects, praised by the department’s manager and the clients. She is well-liked in the department and had no complaints prior to working on the project that caused the conflict.
Company Z specializes in providing its clients with the most comprehensive marketing services, from developing an all-inclusive marketing strategy to executing it to perfection. James’s team was supposed to produce a draft of a logo and models of posters, billboards, and other marketing signage. As it transpired, several models were not prepared, while others were executed twice. Both designers were led to believe they were supposed to sketch the same signage. Elizabeth stated that the team did not hold daily meetings, and each of the designers was assigned one main job with an implication that they may handle other tasks after they are finished with it.
In turn, Corey blamed her for undertaking more challenging and complex advertising material that was “clearly meant for senior members of the team.” Corey’s stance was supported by James, who reprimanded Elizabeth publicly for “failing to understand the hierarchy and contribute to the project.” Elizabeth filed a complaint against both James and Corey, stating she was discriminated against as the department’s newest member. She also noted that the two regularly met, although those meetings were informal, and she was not invited to them.
Although James and Corey were reprimanded in a private meeting with Matthew and a representative from the HR department, no public action was taken. Due to the impact the failure to deliver the advertising signage had on other departments’ work, this course of action was protested by team leaders working on different parts of the project. Matthew was said to be protecting his friends’ careers, while James and Corey were accused of sexism by the women in the company. As of now, the situation is unresolved, and the root causes of the conflict are unclear. In order to analyze this case, structural and human resource frames will be employed.
The structural frame is particularly appropriate to discuss the organizational behavior problem as it is evident that there was no transparency in how tasks were assigned to the designers in the team. Bolman and Deal (2017, p. 52) mention that division of labor is “the keystone of structure.” Employees in every department of Company Z need to have a clear understanding of their duties and responsibilities and what tasks are assigned to them.
This conflict indicates there is no strict structure within the department and raises questions about whether the same disputes may arise in other units in the company. As the disagreement became public, with other departments becoming aware that no meaningful action was taken to reprimand the parties at fault, it sent a worrying message to all company employees. The lack of a rigid structure also led to allegations of discrimination on the basis of gender being brought forward, which may not necessarily be true in this case.
Flexible structure in the department should not be viewed as a negative notion, as it can, under the right circumstances, contribute to employees’ ideas and opinions being heard. Nevertheless, even a flexible arrangement within a department requires a set of rules to govern the performance of every employee (Bolman and Deal, 2017). A structured work environment that gives individuals a certain degree of autonomy can direct and motivate individuals to perform well in their job and achieve organizational goals (Bauer and Erdogan, 2018).
In this case, Corey and Elizabeth were given too much independence in an unstructured environment. It led to one of the team members being unsure of her assignment but not feeling confident enough to voice her concerns. As the team leader, James did not ensure that every team member understood their duties and did not prevent Corey and Elizabeth from working on the same signage. Thus, the team leader failed to set the rules of performance and did not state clearly what the designers are supposed to work on when they have finished their primary assignment.
The conflict reveals a lack of control measures set by the team leader. Performance control could have been easily implemented to ensure that certain objectives are achieved by the team (Bolman and Deal, 2017). The structural frame suggests that performance should not have been an issue as the goals were well-defined and easily calculable (Bolman and Deal, 2017). After the project’s common theme and logo were developed, team members were assigned one main task, with several assignments remaining to be completed by those who have finished their primary workload. James did not set any measures to control what parts of the project were completed, i.e., any meetings with the whole team or an accessible check-list, putting the project at risk.
Nevertheless, the blame cannot be shifted solely on him, as neither Corey nor Elizabeth managed to ensure they worked on different assignments after finishing their primary ones. Corey assumed he could take the most complex signage due to his seniority, while Elizabeth failed to clarify her tasks with James and Corey. Overall, the conflict shows that there are problems both with differentiation and integration in the team.
The issue described in the previous paragraph also raises another question: Why were Corey and Elizabeth grouped together for the project? As a team leader, James could have chosen any advertising designers from the department, but he selected Corey, with whom he has a friendly relationship, and Elizabeth, the company’s newest employee. From a structural perspective, this grouping can be described as strictly functional, as both designers have a similar skill that they use in their work (Bolman and Deal, 2017).
If no other designers were available to work on the project due to other commitments, the grouping was unfortunate. However, if the two were grouped on purpose, James revealed a lack of understanding of how the two individuals would work together. The protagonists involved showed no teamwork knowledge and conflicting personalities, which led to the teams’ observed ineffectiveness (Bauer and Erdogan, 2018). Thus, James illustrated a lack of understanding of how to group individuals for teamwork.
As a more senior member of the department, Corey assumed that he has more authority than Elizabeth, creating an unnecessary and somewhat illegitimate layer of hierarchy within the team (King and Lawley, 2016). As a junior member of the team, Elizabeth lacked power and did not confront Corey or James about this. Corey’s belief that he is “second in command” added to the confusion of who was responsible for what part of the project (King and Lawley, 2016). It should be noted that as the team leader, James did not make an effort to clarify the hierarchy and ensure the equality of both members of the team.
The conflict could have been avoided if James had selected designers of equal seniority in the department. This additional hierarchy level contributed to there being no control over the team’s individual members and them having no sense of direction within the group (Bauer and Erdogan, 2018). Thus, the structure of the team also contributed to the onset of the dispute.
Hierarchy also played a substantial part in the escalation of the conflict. Corey tried to assume a position of power in the conflict, despite formal authority being assigned only to James and Matthew. They are the employees “charged with keeping action aligned with goals and objectives” (Bolman and Deal, 2017, p. 54). The disruption in the chain of command by Corey and James’s support led to the dispute escalating and Matthew’s involvement. James failed to “shape and direct the behavior” of Corey and Elizabeth, while Matthew was unable to do the same with James and Corey when choosing to reprimand them privately (Bolman and Deal, 2017, p. 54).
The private nature of the meeting with no meaningful penalties for the team led to further escalation and conflict being made public by heads of other departments affected by the delayed project. The flawed chain of command also raises the question of whether those at higher levels of hierarchy in the company can be neutral when their close friends are involved in a workplace conflict.
The Human Resource Frame
Employees are vital for any company’s success, and it is essential to give every individual in the workplace power and opportunity to perform well. If the fit between an institution and an individual is poor, “one or both suffer” (Bolman and Deal, 2017, p. 122). The human resource frame allows to look at the conflicts in organizations at an individual level and whether the needs of both the employees and Company Z were met (King and Lawley, 2016). The described disagreement raises a set of questions that can be answered from the human resource frame’s perspective: Why did Elizabeth not feel powerful enough to voice her concerns? Why did Corey feel it was unnecessary to discuss the project with Elizabeth? Why did James fail to direct and manage his team effectively? Why did Matthew not play a more prominent part in the project as the creative director? Why did other female employees believe that the conflict arose due to sexism? The answers to these questions can reveal the dispute’s root causes from the human resource frame perspective.
Matthew and James gave their subordinates a lot of autonomy in the described conflict. Matthew failed to control how James led and directed his team, while James gave Corey and Elizabeth too much liberty. As there were no strict external control measures established by the two men, it can be argued that they tried to utilize Theory Y (Bolman and Deal, 2017). It requires individuals in the position of authority to arrange conditions in the workplace so that employees “can achieve their own goals best by directing efforts toward organizational rewards” (Bolman and Deal, 2017, p. 126).
However, it is unclear what rewards were promised to the protagonists of the conflict in this case. Furthermore, neither seem to have adopted an involved and guiding role to ensure that the team members’ independence translated into tangible results (Black et al., 2019). A more motivated workforce could have been created if they exercised a participatory approach (King and Lawley, 2016). Instead, they relied on Corey and Elizabeth to direct themselves and failed to address their needs that contributed to the conflict and its escalation.
The needs of the employees play an important part in the human resource frame. Corey’s ego needs for recognition within the company were not met, while Elizabeth’s social need for inclusion was overlooked by her superiors (Bolman and Deal, 2017). Corey has been working for Company Z for six years with no promotions and no leadership positions formally assigned to him. This absence of recognition could have contributed to his behavior and previous professional conduct complaints. It can be disputed that Corey tried to convey his frustration by forming an alliance with James to shift the power balance in his favor (Bolman and Deal, 2017).
Unlike Elizabeth, he had informal meetings with James and worked on the tasks he deemed suitable “for senior designers.” On the other hand, as a new full-time employee, Elizabeth did not feel included, being grouped with a co-worker trying to promote himself. Her response to the situation was to withdraw psychologically and become passive (Bolman and Deal, 2017). Both the designers acted on their frustrations without voicing them, leading to the discussed conflict affecting the project and other departments in the company.
Another concerning factor is the assumption of other female employees that Elizabeth was discriminated against as the only woman on the team. Although this fact is debatable, as other protagonists only addressed her being new to the department, it does raise the alarm about the treatment of women in the organization. Their eagerness to believe the exclusion was gender-based shows the company has a worrying trend of surface-level inclusion, with women being given workplaces without being allowed to progress within the institution (Black et al., 2019).
It has to be noted that the individuals in the position of power in this scenario are male. This gender inequality might be coincidental with the best professionals selected for the positions of authority in the company. Despite his creativity and talent, Corey also did not progress to a higher hierarchy level due to his unprofessional behavior, while Elizabeth is newly employed and cannot be expected to be promoted this early. Discrimination on the basis of gender may not be present in the discussed conflict. However, there is a need for further investigation in other departments of Company Z.
As the department manager and creative director, Matthew failed to address the conflict and ensure it was de-escalated. He also did not guarantee that the teams in his department assigned to the project had sufficient control measures established and that James, as the team leader, was aware of his team’s progress. Matthew did not exert enough power over his subordinates and create a safe space for all the employees.
James failed to adequately direct and manage his team by implementing Theory Y yet failing to create conditions for the team members to achieve their personal and organizational goals while working on the project. His leadership style contributed significantly to the conflict and its escalation. Due to this, Corey felt righteous and secure in his position, while Elizabeth, as a junior member, felt powerless and unable to address her concerns.
Due to his seniority, Corey felt entitled to create a new level of hierarchy within the team without discussing it with other protagonists. This behavior stems from Corey being dissatisfied with his position in the company, as, unlike James and Matthew, he did not “climb the ladder” in the company quickly. He still occupies the same position after six years of work and despite his creativity being highly praised.
Elizabeth did not make her frustration with how the project was being handled known to either James or Corey. Although she knew that the project is likely to be affected by James’ attitude to the division of work within the team, she did not raise awareness of it to James or Matthew. This behavior can be problematic in the future and shows Elizabeth’s inability to work in a team. It also indicates worrying indifference to how her behavior impacts the project and, subsequently, the company’s reputation.
Other female employees feel insecure and powerless in their positions in the company. The fact that they assumed that the dispute ocurred because of James and Corey discriminating against Elizabeth based on her gender, not other reasons, shows a worrying culture in the discussed workplace. The female staff’s social and ego needs, including the need for belonging, inclusion, respect, and recognition, may not be being met in the company.
Possible Alternative Solutions
The conflict analysis is limited, as the dispute is discussed only from the structural and human resource perspectives. More root causes of the protagonists’ individual behaviors could be unveiled if the conflict is examined from the political and symbolic frames’ point of view. Specifically, the political frame could help discover whether the protagonists had any hidden agendas. Meanwhile, the symbolic approach could explain whether the individuals involved in the conflict lacked purpose and meaning in their work and were poorly motivated.
It can be argued that the primary reason for James’s failure to manage and direct his team is a lack of personal motivation. Like Corey, he has worked in Company Z for seven years without progressing to a management position despite glowing reviews and team-leading experience. The failure to deliver on certain projects may indicate his loss of interest in his position and frustration of not being promoted beyond it. Motivation is critical in sustaining human behavior, particularly in the workplace (Black et al., 2019).
Another explanation is that as a member of the department who is often appointed a team leader, he is accustomed to his teams working in a specific style, with no formal meetings. He might have expected Corey and Elizabeth to approach him if they had questions without realizing that the latter is not familiar with that practice as a new department member. In addition, James might not be suitable for leadership positions as he shows a low concern for results and people (Black et al., 2019). This unsuitability for the position of authority might have contributed to the discussed conflict.
It should also be noted that Elizabeth could have prevented the conflict or alerted Matthew to it earlier if she voiced her concerns. However, as she failed to do so, it can be assumed that her personality has an adverse effect on her work-related attitudes (Black et al., 2019). It can be assumed that, along with inexperience in working as a part of a team, Elizabeth is introverted and has an external locus of control that contributes to her behavior in the workplace (Black et al., 2019).
Similarly, Corey’s personality might not be compatible with this workplace, as he exhibits traits of authoritarianism with his believes in clear hierarchy and “power differences among people” (Black et al., 2019, p. 43). Thus, the conflict could have been propelled by the incompatible personalities of the team members.
Final Recommendations and Plan of Action
All the protagonists involved in the conflict should modify their behavior in the workplace in order to prevent disputes in the future. There are several recommendations aimed at the protagonists of the discussed dispute:
- Matthew to consider a structural change within the department and amending James’ role to remove him from a position of power. He should also consider launching an investigation into potential discrimination in the department.
- James to undertake a management training course to improve his communication, leadership, problem-solving skills, and organizational awareness.
- Corey to receive sessions with the HR department to establish the reasons for his disruptive behavior, discuss his future in the company, and create a plan to avoid potential conflicts. The HR department should explain the consequences of further problematic behavior to Corey in those sessions.
- Elizabeth to undergo a series of teambuilding sessions in order to learn to work better as part of a team.
- Other employees to undergo a seminar on discrimination based on gender, religion, race, ethnicity, or sexuality, as the concerns raised by female workers indicate that there might be unreported precedents of sexism in the company. The HR department should consider implementing a new scheme for employees to report discrimination of any kind.
Black, J. et al. (2019) Organizational behavior. Web.
Bauer, T. and Erdogan, B. (2018) An introduction to organizational behavior. 3rd edn. Web.
Bolman, L.G. and Deal, T.E. (2017) Reframing organizations: artistry, choice, and leadership. 6th edn. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons.
King, D. and Lawley, S. (2016) Organizational behaviour. 2nd edn. Oxford: Oxford University Press.