Departmental conflicts

Feelings do influence the day to day running of business operations where some people feel undermined or expectations differ. If not kin to control the small misunderstandings it might lead to bigger issues where it might even affect productivity.

Managing conflict between different departments in the workplace typically involves establishing better communication and promoting collaboration. Conflict inevitably occurs when two different groups have competing goals. Early intervention prevents minor arguments from escalating into a major problem. Any disagreement that disrupts the flow of work, impacts productivity or threatens employees needs attention.


The first step in conflict resolution involves accurately assessing the situation. Before you attempt to mitigate the situation, conduct interviews with representatives in each department to establish the facts. Get each side to acknowledge a problem exists. By recognizing that each other’s concerns are important, you can help the departments work together and start the resolution process.


By aligning all departmental strategic objectives to the goals set for the company as a whole, you can avoid many interdepartmental conflicts. For example, two departments may compete for the same resources, such as employees, materials and funding. If one department’s actions don’t support executive leadership’s directives, encourage the department to re-evaluate its policies. To have a lasting effect, you need to recognize that people have emotional responses to workplace issues. Discourage emotional outbursts and attempt to face the problem head on. Focus on the problems, not the individuals in the department. Attempt to resolve personality conflicts separately from departmental or organizational disagreements.


Establish meeting guidelines and get participants to agree to adhere to these rules. By allowing everyone a chance to speak, permitting people to ask questions and encouraging an open dialog, you allow people from each department to understand other perspectives. Encourage participants to listen, paraphrase to indicate they know what was heard and focus on the fundamental issues. Promote teamwork and collaboration. After you resolve the immediate crisis, take steps to foster better operations by running team-building activities, such as off-site meetings, events or parties, to help people in different departments recognize the value each person has in contributing to achieving the company’s strategic goals.


Designate one person to act as a facilitator in meetings, ideally a person from a neutral department. That person should review the information presented by each department, propose options and make a recommendation. Don’t delay making a decision. Keeping the departments in limbo prevents work from progressing. Communicate the decision by giving details about why the ruling makes sense and get commitment from each department to abide by the decision. For example, if one department requires the use of a conference room on an ongoing basis to conduct customer focus groups, publish the schedule and explain the reasons for dedicating the room to that department. At most companies, meetings with customers take priority over internal meetings, and once people in the other department recognize the benefits of improving revenue generation, they tend to accept allowances made to other departments, even if it represents an inconvenience to their own operations.

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Organizational conflicts can vary from interpersonal conflicts which are generated by organizational politics and rumors. We might also have conflicts relating to hierarchy and leadership positons. External factors such as recession and economic pressure may influence conflicts.

The first step in uncovering workplace conflict is to consider the typical sources of conflict. There are a variety of sources of workplace conflict including interpersonal, organizational, change related, and external factors.


Interpersonal conflict is the most apparent form of conflict for workplace participants. It is easy enough to observe the results of office politics, gossip, and rumours. Also language and personality styles often clash, creating a great deal of conflict in the workplace. In many workplaces there are strong ethno-cultural and racial sources of conflict as well as gender conflict. This may lead to charges of harassment and discrimination or at least the feeling that such things exist. People often bring their stresses from home into the office leading to further conflict. An additional source of workplace conflict can be found in varying ideas about personal success. The strong drive for work related achievement in some participants can clash with participants who do not emphasize work-related success in their lives.


There are a number of organizational sources of conflict. Those relating to hierarchy and the inability to resolve conflicting interests are quite predominant in most workplaces. Labour/management and supervisor/employee tensions are heightened by power differences. Differences in supervisory styles between departments can be a cause of conflict. Also there can be work style clashes, seniority/juniority and pay equity conflict. Conflict can arise over resource allocation, the distribution of duties, workload and benefits, different levels of tolerance for risk taking, and varying views on accountability. In addition, conflict can arise where there are perceived or actual differences in treatment between departments or groups of employees.


The modern workplace has significant levels of stress and conflict related to change-management and downsizing. Technological change can cause conflict, as can changing work methodologies. Many workplaces suffer from constant reorganization, leading to further stress and conflict. In line with reorganization, many public and non-profit organizations suffer from downloading of responsibilities from other organizations.

Workplace analysts should review the history of the particular organization, reaching back as far as 10 years to determine the level of churn that has taken place. Generally speaking, the more change and the more recent the change, the more likely there will be significant conflict.

External Factors

External factors can also lead to conflict in the workplace. Economic pressures are caused by recession, changing markets, domestic and foreign competition, and the effects of Free Trade between countries. Conflict arises with clients and suppliers effecting customer service and delivery of goods. Also public and non-profit workplaces in particular can face political pressures and demands from special interest groups. A change in government can have a tremendous impact, especially on public and non-profit organizations. Funding levels for workplaces dependent upon government funding can change dramatically. Public ideologies can have an impact on the way employees are treated and viewed in such organizations.

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