What is the role of conflict in groups and organizations?

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The experts have been divided over the role of conflict in organizations and groups. However there are mainly three schools of thought that emphasize the different roles of conflict in the organizations. These three schools of thought present the traditional view, the human relation view and the interaction view.

(i) The traditional view: The traditional view believed that conflict is harmful for the organization. This view considered conflict as a totally negative phenomenon and considered it synonymous with violence and destruction. In the traditional view conflict was believed to be a dysfunction outcome of factors like poor communication, lack of trust among the employees and a failure of the management to respond to the needs and desired of the employees. It was believed that conflict could cause a loss in productivity and too much conflict at the work place could also distract the managers from efficiently discharging their duties. In this way we see that the traditional view considered conflict as a totally bad thing and advocated its complete avoidance. This sometime resulted in a tendency to suppress the conflict and push it under the carpet. By ignoring the presence of conflict, we somehow try to wish it away. Both the scientific management approach and the administrative school of management related heavily on developing such organizational structures that would specify task, rules, regulations procedures and authority relationships so that if a conflict develops, then these inbuilt rules will identify and correct problems of such conflict. Thus, through proper management techniques and attention to the causes of conflict, it could be eliminated and organizational performance improved.

(ii) Human Relation View: The proponents of human relations view believe that conflict was a natural occurrence in all groups and organizations and the management should accept conflict at work place. This theory says that conflict is avoidable by creating an environment of goodwill and trust. But still conflicts are bound to happen due to differences in opinions, faulty policies and procedures, lack of cooperation, allocation of resources which will lead to distortion and blockage in communication. Accordingly, management should always be concerned with avoiding conflict if possible and resolving it soon if possible, in the interests of the organizations and the individuals.

(iii) The Interactions view: The inter-actionist approach went a step further from the human relations approach which accepted conflict but the inter-actionist view in fact encouraged conflict. This view is based on a belief that conflict could be a positive force in a group but it is even necessary for a group to perform efficiently. Thus this approach encourages conflict as these approaches believes that if there is harmony, peace and co-operation in a group it can become static and non-responsive towards the needs for change and innovation. Therefore it becomes imperative that the leader of the group allows some conflict in the group so that it remains creative viable and self critical. This conflict however should be kept under control at all times so that the dysfunction consequences of conflict avoided.

This article has been written by KJ Singh a MBA Graduate from a prestigious Business School In India
Article Published:September 10, 2012
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