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A Case Study of Organizational Behavior: Conflict Management

To create a footprint in the telecommunication Business & Operation Support System (BSS and OSS) a well known fortune 500 company, Olite (name changed) , acquired a leading software company in the billing and revenue management sector named PTL (name changed) in the year 2004. Olite is a multinational company with its headquarters in USA.

This acquisition was consolidated at Olite, under the Telecommunication Business Unit (TBU). To utilize the cost advantage and the technical expertise, Olite started its TBU division activities at the India development center (IDC). Olite also maintained a group (here after referred to as HQ team) at its headquarters, which focused on R & D activities and for supporting a few key customers. Most of the employees who were part of TBU division came from PTL software. The main responsibilities of the IDC group were to provide support to the existing customers and provide minor enhancement to the existing product.

This case study discusses the growth of the TBU’s engineering division at IDC and the challenges it faced while dealing with the needs of the employees, aspirations of its leaders and the effects and challenges it created to the group at its HQ division and the HQ group heads reaction to it.

As part of this case study we will try to focus and understand following aspects:

Personality type

Conflict between individuals

Organizational politics –Divide and Conquer

Description of the Case:

This is a case study of the Engineering (Product Development) group of the TBU division. The TBU’s engineering group was organized in a simple hierarchical structure as shown in Figure 1.

Michel (VP)

Suraj (Director)

Ashok (Director)

Mahesh (Senior Director)

Figure 1: TBU team hierarchy

The entire engineering division at IDC was lead by the directors, Ashok and Suraj. Mahesh was leading the R & D group at HQ. Both Ashok and Suraj had independent teams. Ashok and Suraj’s teams worked on customer support activities and were responsible for addressing product issues and implementing minor enhancements of the product. Under their leadership, these groups delivered many customer success stories and created a good impression and were viewed as an asset to the organization. Both the directors were leading the customer support activities. As the IDC group achieved more and more success, the aspiration of the directors started to change. Both the directors started showing intent to lead the entire IDC engineering division. Ashok was very aggressive and ambitious. He was action-oriented and forward thinking. While Suraj kept to his duties and focused on the day to day customer issues, however, he also showed intent to lead the division.

As the team in IDC successfully managed the customer support activity, some of their key engineers also expressed a desire to work on R & D activities. They wanted a break from the routine work. Ashok encouraged the team to express their views on the type of work they would like to do in the future and promised to explore the feasibility of these ideas.

During this time, the entire customer support activity was shifted to the IDC center and the team in HQ focused solely on R& D activities. As the IDC organization grew (in terms of domain expertise, strength, and excellence), there were concern from the HQ division (Mahesh’s team) about their role and future. Meanwhile, the recession in USA had also impacted the IT job market and job security was a major worrying factor for the HQ team.

Creating new group:

To take the IDC organization on a further growth path, during one of the Staff meeting , Ashok proposed to create a focused group(consisting of key engineers from Ashok and Suraj’s group) within the organization (under his leadership) to work on new product development and to collaborate with the R& D division in HQ. This proposal shocked Suraj as Ashok had never discussed this idea with him and he felt let down. Suraj opposed this idea. On hearing the proposal from Ashok, Mahesh started worrying about the R & D team located at HQ. The HQ team expressed the concern that they may lose their jobs once the R & D work is offloaded to IDC. He also started worrying about his position in the organization as he knew Ashok was a very aggressive leader and had a good rapport within organization. Michel promised to look into this idea and promised to provide his views on it soon. Michel relied on Mahesh’s inputs to make decisions related to the engineering division, as he was a new to the division.

Game Changes-Divide and Conquer:

In the meanwhile, problems started cropping up between the groups headed by Ashok and Suraj. Ashok tried to convince Suraj about the benefits of new group but Suraj has different ideas. Suraj suggested that, instead of forming new group (consisting of key engineers from Ashok and Suraj’s group), we should utilize part of every engineers time to do the R & D activity. Talks about starting a focus group became a conflicting point between Ashok and Suraj. Even on common issues, they had different views. This difference became quite public during team meetings. This started affecting the team morale and the day to day activities of the IDC group.

Michel kept on delaying the decision (on suggestion from Mahesh) on the new group formation at IDC. This uncertainty about the new group formation and the differences between the IDC directors was taking toll on the productivity of the teams and eventually on customer satisfaction. He always took care of his team members very well. Along with the formation of the new group, he had proposed better benefits and flexibility to his team members to motivate them.

Ashok frequently reminded the higher management about the new group formation and the difficulties he was having in co-coordinating with Suraj. The management kept on delaying the decision and eventually Ashok resigned from the company. As Suraj’s performance was not up to the mark, the upper management decided to terminate his employment. The sudden departure of both the directors created huge gap in the leadership of the IDC organization. Most of the team started worrying about the future of the group and some of the experienced engineers left the company.

During this period, Mahesh reached out to a few key engineers at IDC and assured them job opportunities at HQ’s R& D team. The attrition level went up to 60% at IDC center. This affected the customer support activity. Sensing an opportunity, Mahesh made a pitch to the higher management that, with current capacity and expertise at IDC, the division can no longer handle the support activities and the HQ team needs to pitch in to complete this work. Finally, the upper management agreed and the critical customer support activity was moved to the HQ division. The job security concern of the HQ division vanished as they started playing a key role in support as well as in R & D activities. At the end of all this, the IDC division was functioning in a lesser role and had hired a new leadership team.

Analysis:

Let’s analyze the above case in terms of conflict, OB politics and Personality type.

Conflict

Conflict can occur between individuals or groups and across organizations as people compete. Some principal causes of conflicts are:

• Communication failure

• Personality conflict

• Value differences

• Goal differences

• Methodological differences

• Substandard performance

• Lack of cooperation

• Differences regarding authority

• Differences regarding responsibility

• Competition over resources

• Non-compliance with rules

Here in the above case, the conflict between Ashok and Suraj can be categorized as interpersonal conflicts. Interpersonal conflicts can arise due to personality clashes, different set of values, lack of trust, organizational change, and threat to status.

The main reason for this conflict was the changes suggested to the organization (Organizational change) by Ashok. Suraj had different views on the organizational structure changes, the routes to take and their likely success, the resources to be used, and the probable outcomes.

Scarcity of resources can also bring about conflict, as all managers within an organization seek to secure for themselves the scarce resources required for survival. Each manager acts out of self interest. In order to secure these scarce resources, a group may block another group’s access to the resources.

Also, individuals give importance to their social ranking in a group. When an individual’s social ranking is threatened, face saving becomes a powerful driving force as the person struggles to maintain the desired image. Conflict may arise between the threatened individual and the person who created a threat to the status.

Every continuing relationship requires some degree of trust-the capacity to depend on each other's word and actions. Trust opens up boundaries, provides opportunities in which to act; and enriches the entire social fabric of an organization. Here Suraj was taken aback by the sudden proposal of Ashok about creating a new group and he lost trust in Ashok.

Organizational politics -Divide and Conquer

Organizational politics can be described as self-serving and manipulative behavior of individuals and groups to promote their self interests at the expense of others, and some times even organizational goals as well. Organizational politics in a company manifests itself through the struggle for resources, personal conflicts, competition for power and leadership and tactical influence executed by individuals and groups to attain power, building personal stature, controlling access to information, not revealing real intents, building coalitions etc.

While most leaders try to achieve organizational unity, some do use divisive tactics to maintain control, or to elevate performance by fostering competition. As per Rick Brenner’s article (Devious Political Tactics: Divide and Conquer), the leaders use following tactics /forms to divide-and-conquer at the work place.

The three-legged race

Some supervisors assign responsibility jointly to two people who are already at odds. This tactic can be a simple error, or even a misguided attempt to "give them a chance to work things out," but often its purpose is to keep the warriors in conflict, to protect the supervisor.

Delaying the decision

When subordinates contend for the same promotion or for some other desirable assignment, some supervisors delay their decisions, on the theory that competition creates superior performance.

Although performance might improve before the decision, this tactic can damage relationships permanently. And that could depress the performance permanently after the decision — for the winner, for the loser, and for the entire group.

Delegating for conflict

Delegating authority generally enhances effectiveness, but some managers delegate to create conflict by delegating different responsibilities to two people, in such a way that they must cooperate to succeed. Since neither one is fully responsible, the delegator is free to play one against the other.

This tactic damages relationships and depresses organizational performance. Costs are high and repairs difficult, because they involve both reorganization and replacing people

Lying

One approach to dividing an alliance, or to keeping trouble alive, is to tell lies to one or both parties. Lies — either of omission or commission — can create the impression that one party threatens the other.

Maintaining differences

When managers have promised to retain employees in mergers or acquisitions, keeping organizational elements intact can be a divide-and-conquer tactic. Managers can then systematically discriminate in allocating resources and opportunities. A typical goal might be to drive up voluntary turnover in acquired units.

Indirect subversion of the promise to retain employees is still subversion. This tactic is unethical, and therefore risky. If the promise to retain was sincere, subverting it could subvert a key strategy of the combination.

In this case study, to protect his self interest and interest of his group, Mahesh influenced Michel to use “Delaying the decision” tactics. As the decision was deferred, it added to the frustration of Ashok and eventually he took the extreme step and resigned from company. Although, Mahesh was successful in his goals, his methodology is questionable.

The leader-member exchange (LMX) theory argues that, because of time and pressure, leader establishes a special relationship with small group of their followers. These individuals make up the in-group; they are trusted, get a disproportionate amount of the leader’s attention and are more likely to receive more privileges. Here Michel’s behavior complies with this theory as he relied on Mahesh’s suggestion to make the decision. In our view, this may not be good for an organization in the long term as it does not provide fair opportunities to the out-group as the leader’s have only a formal relation with the out-group.

Personality types

In this section we talk about different personality types:

MBTI Types:

Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung developed a theory early in the 20th century to describe basic individual preferences and similarities and differences between people. Main postulate of the theory is that people have inborn behavioral tendencies and preferences.

Jung’s theory is important but inaccessible to the general population. Isabel Myers and Katherine Briggs (mother-daughter team) expanded on Jung’s work by developing an instrument to help people identify their preferences.

The MBTI tool is an indicator of the personality type (i.e. innate preferences) that has proven to be remarkably reliable and valid. It represents the result of over 50 years of research and is used globally in both education and corporate settings.

Extraversion – Introversion

E - I Dichotomy

Where do you prefer to focus your attention – and get your energy?

Sensing – Intuition

S - N Dichotomy

How do you prefer to take in information?

Thinking – Feeling

T - F Dichotomy

How do you make decisions?

Judging – Perceiving

J - P Dichotomy

How do you deal with the outer world?

In the above case, Ashok was a natural leader and organization builder. He conceptualizes and theorizes readily and translates possibilities into plans to achieve long-term objectives. He is a strategic visionary and adept at planning for the future needs of the people and organization. But he made decisions too quickly without understanding the alternatives or exploring other possibilities. This behavior may be viewed as dictatorial. He failed to factor in to his plans the needs of others for support. He can be categorized as ENTJ Personality Type.

While Suraj showed strong sense of responsibility and great loyalty to the organization, he generally worked alone and showed willingness to work in a team whenever it was necessary. The team viewed him as calm, serious, and of a reserved personality. However, when creating a group was proposed, he became rigid and critical about others and rushed into premature judgment without considering others view points. He can be categorizes as ISFJ Personality Type.

Author’s view on the case study:

Based on the description of the case, in our view, Ashok had following objectives when he suggested creating the new group:

Provide opportunity to his team members to participate in R& D activities.

Strengthen the contribution of the IDC division to the TBU, to start playing a significant role in the R & D activity, and start driving the engineering decisions from IDC.

Use this opportunity to strengthen his grasp on the organization and eventually lead the entire IDC division.

And Suraj opposed this idea, as he was skeptical about:

Creating a focused group may lead to a division between the groups. And as R & D is the preferred activity (than customer support/maintenance), engineers who will not be part of R & D group may get de-motivated.

Also, he was worried about losing his key team members to R & D group and eventually, his grasp on the team. His team’s success was mainly dependent upon these key members.

Experienced engineers were needed to support the customer issues.

Also, he felt that Ashok leading the entire division will affect his standing in the group.

In reference to the Mintzberg’s managerial work roles classification, mangers roles are classified into 3 groups:

Category

Role

Activity

Informational

Monitor, Disseminator,

Spokesperson

Seek and receive information, ensuring progress as planned, giving required information to decision-makers, Spokesperson

Interpersonal

Figurehead

Leader

Liaison

representing the group to outsiders, providing direction/purpose, ‘linking-pin’ between groups

Decisional

Entrepreneur

Disturbance handler

Resource allocator

Negotiator

seizing new opportunities, deciding which projects or activities to support, correcting deviations from plans/expectations, securing favorable terms for the group

In our view, as a senior member of the team, Ashok & Suraj exhibited the Monitor, Figurehead roles but failed to play Liaison and Negotiator role.

In our view, Ashok would have taken Suraj into confidence before proposing the new group and assured him that his group activities will not be affected. Also, Ashok’s suggestion to delay the decision was clear example of organization politics. Although Ashok succeeded in safeguarding the interest of his group, due to this, TBU as an organization lost some of the Key engineers and also cost advantage.

In our view, as a decision maker of the group, Michel should have played decisional role and resolved the conflict between Suraj and Ashok. He should have created different growth path for both of them which would have helped to resolve the conflict.

Key lesson learned:

We have learned that the concept of individual differences is fundamental to organizational behavior. Each and every one pursues problems differently and acts differently. Employees need to accept, respect, and learn how to use these differences when they arise.

When there is scarcity of resources, each group within the organization seeks to secure for itself the scarce resources it requires for its survival.

Based on the several articles we read during the course of preparing for this assignment we had a wide view why conflicts and organization politics happens in the industrial world.

A leader needs to keep the interest of the organizational interest foremost and act accordingly to grow the organization. It is important to build a consensus within the group and get the commitment from group before taking any important decision.

Organizational politics is unavoidable. It is important to exhibit legitimate political skills along with knowledge and ability.

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