Understanding And Managing Of Difficult Colleagues Commerce Essay

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The purpose of this report is to consider a personal management of people 'problem' within the broad context of organisational behaviour and human resource management. The particular problem focuses around the behaviour of one individual who is a peer of the author. As the author has no direct line management authority over the individual, practical actions by the author are therefore limited.

The problem is therefore examined through an exploration of the potential causes of the behaviour of the individual in question to enable the author to understand and deal more effectively with the individual concerned.

Whilst there are many factors that can affect workplace behaviour (Hanna, Burns, & Backhouse, 2000), for the purposes of this report, the following are considered: organisational context, employee motivation, and culture.

Theory is considered and appropriately applied to the issue to aid understanding and to assist with the determination of courses of action available to the author to take.

Finally the report concludes with a personal reflection of the learning gained through carrying out this project within the DMS/MBA 'Managing People in Organisations Module'

The Problem

The author works for the Children's Workforce Development Council (CWDC), which is a public sector body set up to support workforce reform across the children and young people's workforce. It has seen a rapid growth since it began five years ago and currently employs over 200 staff, most of who are based in Leeds though many senior managers are home workers.

The author leads one of four sub-teams within a particular programme of work covered by a larger team. For the purposes of this assignment these are referred to as Teams A, B, C and D. The team that the author has responsibility for is team A which deals with a number of cross cutting aspects of the programme i.e. communications, evaluation. This requires close liaison with the other sub-teams which lead on key projects within the programme. At the beginning of this project, Teams A and B were managed by line manager X and teams C and D by line manager Y. All teams are now under the management of line Manager X. Each of the teams has one or two junior members of staff.

Team C manager is a manager who behaves in a forceful way often dominating team and manager meetings. On occasions, she has sulked when not getting her way. Her own staff as well as those in other teams have commented on her style as they feel that they cannot contribute to meetings for fear of having their views dismissed or upsetting her. Team manager C has also attempted to impose her ways of working on others.

Recently the relationship between the author and team manager C became strained as a result of what was thought to be a private conversation between the author and her line manager Y. Unbeknown to the author, team manager C was listening to this conversation as line manager Y was on hands-free in the car in which she was a passenger. The author has made efforts to resolve the difficulties but team C manager has not wished to engage, including on one occasion walking away in tears.

Since then team manager C has colluded with team manager D to question and undermine decisions made by the author including secretly turning to senior manager for support for their views.

A restructure across the whole organisation is taking place along with a restructuring of the work areas within the four sub-teams. The outcome of this is that there will only be one overall team line manager (X) and that individual team areas of work will change, as well line management responsibilities. The author's team have expressed the view that they do wish to be managed by team C manager because of her manner and autocratic style.

As the author's team's work covers cross cutting activities, there will be increased collaboration between all teams within programme. It will therefore be critically important that the author create a more effective working relationship with team manager C. Given the team restructure it is also important that a better culture is created across the team that allows all team members to contribute and that greater team working is achieved. This in turn is of utmost importance to the team and the organisation in order to achieve its strategic and operational goals.

Alternative issues within this problem such as managing staff through structural change have not been chosen due to the broad nature of that topic and the ability to influence it being limited due the structural change not significantly affecting my team.

The personal desire to focus this report on a challenging scenario in order to develop the author's knowledge, skills and personal resilience, has also influenced the choice of topic for this assignment. The latter being something that the author has identified as part of his ongoing personal development through personal reviews and work arising out of the Personal and Professional Development Module within the DMS/MBA programme.

Organisational Context

The starting point for this project is to consider human behaviour in the overall organisational context of CWDC, which Rollinson (2002) argues is vital for managers to do in order to perform their role effectively (Rollinson, 2002). A further reason for doing so is that individual behaviours are affected by 'variety of stimuli, generated by their work setting' (Robertson, 1994).

CWDC can be described as having a flat structure with 6 levels of staffing, sitting between Drucker's maximum seven levels and Peter's maximum of five (as referenced in Vecchio, 2000). It is also one that can be defined as centralized (Vecchio, 2000). This is unsurprising given that it is a public sector organisation where, as Mullins puts it, 'there is a greater demand for accountability, regularity of procedures and uniformity of treatment' (Mullins 2005).

Various writers have identified a number of theories and approaches around managing people in organisations, which have developed over the last hundred years namely,

Classical - which incorporates the scientific management of work tasks and where people were seen as machines and that monetary reward was the only motivational factor ( Mullins, 2002)

Human relations - which stresses that people have social and personal needs beyond monetary reward which motivate them (Rollinson 2002, Mullins 2005) ,

Bureaucratic - where there is a hierarchical structure within which people have specific positions and roles and tasks which are allocated according to set process (Watson, 1995). CWDC as a large organisation cannot help but display such characteristics (Mullins, 2005)

Power, conflict and decisions, where consideration is given to the ways in which the first two three elements can influence how decisions were made (Handy,1999)

Open systems, where and organisation is viewed as a system which processes inputs and outputs with connected sub-systems (Mullins, 2005) not sealed off from the external environment and therefore affected by it (Rollinson, 2002). In particular the concept of viewing organisations a socio-technical systems which contain sub-systems which involve individual feelings, needs and motivations as well as interpersonal relations and people behaviours (Mullins, 2005). This is particularly relevant to this project and is explored in more detail later.

Contingency - where there is 'no one best structure' as with the classical approach and how an organisation operates is determined by 'variables or situational factors' including size, technology, what it does and its environmental influences (Mullins, 2005). This approach is often seen as a form of open systems theory as it emphasises how the internal workings should adapt to meet external influences (Maula, 2006).

Institutional (Handy, 1999) where organisations are seen as unique and where all of the above apply in some way and where culture plays a huge part (Handy, 1999). Linked to this is also the movement towards quality improvement, particularly the Japanese organisational culture of involvement of the workforce to improve quality (Vecchio, 2000).

Applying the above theories and approaches to CWDC, the author would assess CWDC as being 'institutional' with some strong elements of 'bureaucracy' as well as 'open' systems.

Miles and Snow (1978) put forward a framework which suggests that organisations should fit their structures and processes to their organisational strategy (Miles & Snow, 1978). Four strategy types are identified: defenders (who focus on a narrow market and strive for stability and efficiency and is associated with centralisation); prospectors (who look for new opportunities and innovation and flexibility and associated with de-centralisation); analyzers (a combination of defenders and prospectors) and reactors (who don't have a strategy and merely react to the external environment as it changes) (Miles and Snow, 1978).

Andrews et al, 2009 in their study which tested the applicability of the Miles and Snow model to the public sector found that there was some applicability to public sector of the Miles and Snow's model (Andrews et al, 2009). Therefore applying it to CWDC, it is contended that CWDC is an analyser which particularly focuses on centralisation but also attempts to innovate. This in turn influences the culture within CWDC.

Morgan (2006) offers an alternative way of viewing organisations, by putting forward 'a way of thinking' to understanding organisations through the use of metaphors (Morgan, 2006). Whilst each of the metaphors may have limitations (Rollinson, 2002), the key metaphors applied to CWDC are that it can be seen as a mixture of 'machine', (which links to the ideas about bureaucracy as above) 'culture' and at this moment of time due to its structural changes in 'flux and transformation' metaphor. The culture metaphor which states that organisations can be viewed as a system where members share common beliefs and values and assumptions and that culture has massive influence on behaviour (Rollinson 2002) is particularly apt for this project. Viewing CWDC as a cultural system or a system of sub-cultures (Rollinson, 2002) is explored in more detail below.

Intrinsic in each of the above theories and frameworks is the need to consider how they affect the individual. Team manager C is a relative newcomer to CWDC having come from a local authority just under a year ago. She often states that she had significantly more autonomy and control of budgets and operations in her previous employment. This clashes with the above assessment of CWDC in particular the bureaucratic and controlling nature of CWDC, and is therefore arguably affecting her happiness within CWDC and as such causing her to react in the way she is doing. She may also feel that the different culture at CWDC is not to her liking and in turn is affecting her motivation. Both of these aspects are now explored in further detail.


The concept of organisational culture has grown in importance over the years (Schein, 2004) and is very relevant when considering organisational behaviour (Rollinson, 2002; Mullins, 2005). Organisational culture affects 'how decisions are made, the patterns and manner of behaviour and employee motivation and satisfaction levels' (Williams, Dobson, & Walters, 1993).

However there does not appear to be a single agreed definition of culture (Rollinson, 2002; Mullins, 2005;Vecchio, 2000; Schein, 2004).

One of most favoured definitions is that given by Schein, who states it is;

'A pattern of basic assumptions that a given group has invented, discovered or developed in learning to cope with its problems of external adaption and internal integration and that have worked well enough to be considered valid and therefore to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think and feel in relations to these problems' (Schein 2004),

Schein then goes on to say that there are three related levels of culture which are layered dependent on their visibility (Schein, 2004). These are 'basic underlying assumptions' (the deepest unconscious embedded level of taken for granted beliefs); 'espoused beliefs and values' (which flow from the basic assumptions and are the conscious values and beliefs that are then articulated in strategies, goals and philosophies) and finally the 'artefacts' (the most externally visible manifestations of culture such as office layouts, group member behaviour).

A tool that builds on Schein and can be used to determine the current culture at CWDC is the cultural web (Johnson, Scholes, & Whittington, 2008). The tool looks at six different aspects of the organisation and helps to identify any blockages to achieving cultural change. For the purposes of this project a cultural web analysis of CWDC was conducted with three colleagues and the results are shown in appendix 1.

Whilst the tool is primarily used for informing strategies for culture change, as it used to consider the gap between the present culture and desired culture, it is nonetheless useful for this project as it provides a picture of the culture of CWDC now. The analysis shows that within CWDC there is already a culture of significant control in place and team manager C's desire to impose additional her own controls is causing staff to feel that they do not wish to be managed by her.

Another concept worth considering at this stage is organisational climate. Whilst the terms culture and climate hold similarities and are used interchangeably (Al-Shammari, 1992), they have historically and academically been viewed as separate concepts (Rollinson, 2002).

Orthodox theory regarding climate says it 'refers to a situation and is linked to thoughts, feelings, and behaviours of organizational members' (Denison, 1996) and culture as referring to 'an evolved context within which a situation may be embedded' (Denison, 1996).

Denison argued that these differences have emerged as a result of differing academic approaches to these areas and refer to the same phenomenon i.e. the creation and influence of social contexts in organisations (Denison, 1996). For the purposes of this project the more orthodox theoretical differentiation is however used.

Mullins refers to organisational climate as:

'the prevailing atmosphere surrounding the organisation, to the level of morale and to the strength of feelings or belonging, care and goodwill among members' (Mullins 2005)

Climate recognises perceptions and feelings of the individual and as such can affect their performance and relationships with colleagues. Organisational climate is measured through an individual's perception of a number of factors often using scale based questionnaires (Rollinson, 2002). A number of factors are measured and dependant on the individuals perception the results can be put on a scale of 'psychologically stimulating' to 'stultifying' which in turn can determine whether an individual has a positive or negative disposition to the organisation (Rollinson, 2002).

Four factors are particularly relevant to this project, namely rules orientation, creativity, questioning authority and sociability. The table below provides an interpretation based on the authors view of how each of these factors may be perceived by team manager C



Perception of team manager C

Rules orientation

Whether behaviour is led by formal rules

Feels that there are lots of rules

Creativity and readiness to innovate

Is management seen as receptive to new ideas

Feels her ideas are not taken on board e.g. at team meetings people feel reluctant to agree to her ideas

Questioning authority

Whether it is permissible to question senior level decisions

On one occasion did question a management decision and was criticised


Extent to which there is a team spirit

Does not feel this exists as on occasions expressed she does not feel part of it

(adapted from Rollinson 2002)

The author's analysis of the above table shows that team manager C's perception of the organisation is at the negative end of the scale which in turn is affecting her behaviour and attitude.

The above shows that organisational factors have a clear relationship to employee behaviours and in relation to this project, the behaviour of team manager C. Let us now turn to motivation.


Motivation is seen as key factor when considering how to manage employee performance (Steers, Mowday, & Shapiro, 2004). In this project, however, motivation is considered in order to explore the potential reasons for the behaviour of Team C manager and thereby identify courses of action to take to help deal with the 'problem' set out in the introduction to this report.

Theories on motivation tend to be categorised into two differing types (Rollinson, 2002, Mullins, 2005):

Content - which focus on 'what' motivates and includes people's needs and wants as drivers

Process - which focus on the how behaviour is created and maintained and emphasises the actual process of motivation.

(Rollinson, 2002, Mullins, 2005, Vecchio, 2000)

Two specific content theories are now considered and applied to the team manager C. Firstly Maslow's work on motivation which suggested that individuals had physiological needs, safety needs, love or social needs, esteem or ego needs and self-actualisation needs (Mullins 2005). He put forward the view that individuals were motivated by unsatisfied needs (Mullins, 2005). Maslow presented these needs as a hierarchy which people moved through sequentially until they achieved self-actualisation.

Maslow's theory has been criticised on a number of grounds e.g. it does not take into account the wider context or is gender biased (Dye, Mills, & Weatherbee, 2005); it assumes that once a need has been met 'it no longer has a motivational effect' (Rollinson, 2002), or satisfaction of needs occurs in a particular order (Winfield, Bishop, & Porter, 2000). Nonetheless it has and continues to be used heavily by management and writers as a popular tool to analyse individual needs and their relative importance (Mullins, 2005; Dye, Mills, & Weatherbee, 2005).

Steers and Porter adapted Maslow's theory and identified a set of organisational factors for each of the needs identified by Maslow (Steers & Porter, 1991, as cited in Mullins 2005). Appendix 2 provides an application of this adaptation to team manager C.

The analysis from this is very interesting as it suggests that only her basic needs are being met and that other 'higher level' ones are not. Accordingly her motivation is very low. As such, her frustration at her needs not being met may be the cause of her behaviour at work (Mullins, 2005). Much of her behaviour, falls into the displaced aggression (arguing with colleagues) or regression (her sulking behaviour), categories highlighted by Mullins as the negative responses which emerge from frustration (Mullins, 2005).

A second content theory which is widely used in management is Herzberg's motivation-hygiene theory (Vecchio, 2000). Herzberg identified that there were factors that caused satisfaction (motivators) and those that caused dissatisfaction (hygiene factors) (Herzberg, 1987) and that each should be treated differently and are not opposites (Vecchio, 2000).

Motivators are those factors that are intrinsic to the job and include for example achievement, recognition, responsibility, the work itself and opportunities for advancement (Herzberg, 1987). Hygiene factors are extrinsic factors which relate to the work environment and include such things as salary, personal life, security, and relationships with peers and sub-ordinates (Herzberg, 1987).

Herzberg argues that hygiene factors do not motivate but lack of them can cause dissatisfaction and improving these factors will not necessarily be an incentive to motivate people to perform better.

Herzberg's theory has been criticised for being flawed in his research e.g. respondents believing themselves to be the causes of the good things at work (satisfiers) and the causes of bad things being blamed on the organisation or other external factors (Mullins, 2005; Vecchio, 2000); or that it is limited in its application to skilled professional workers only and not manual workers (Rollinson, 2002).

Nonetheless such criticisms have failed to explain the consistency of Herzberg's results (Bassett-Jones & Lloyd, 2005). Furthermore as with Maslow's theory, Herzberg theory is still widely used and applied (Rollinson, 2002).

Within this project, Herzberg's theory is interesting as it helpfully points out the importance of interpersonal relations as a hygiene factor which if not appropriately dealt with can lead to dissatisfaction in a role. On a personal level, the breakdown of relations is also affecting the author's own satisfaction with his role. An understanding of Herzberg theory is also enabling the author to understand the potential effect of the two factors on his own team. To deal with this, the author has held separate discussions with his own team members. Both members have stated that the behaviour of team manager C towards them and the author has affected their satisfaction with working for the team, but not affecting their motivation to work.

The other type of motivation theory is process theory. This is, as stated previously, where the actual process of motivation is examined, particularly in relation to the choices people make based on their perceptions of a the variables around them (Winfield, Bishop, & Porter, 2000)

The particular process theory looked at for this project is the equity theory. This is because it has been shown to be a 'practical explanation for why employees perform the way they do' (Huseman & Hatfield, 1990).

Equity theory emphasises the fact people's behaviours are influenced by perceptions of inequity (Mullins, 2005). A number of stages happen. First is the comparison stage (Mullins, 2005) where the individual would compare own outcomes (e.g., status, working from home) in relation to own input (e.g. experience, skills) to those of others (e.g. colleagues) (Latham & Ernst, 2006) .

The theory can be applied to this project because it can be argued that team manager C may be feeling that she is being treated differently to others because of the following:

her job title differs from others;

she feels her area of work does not get the support from her existing line manager;

she is a newcomer who does not get on well with the team;

her view that her request to work from home should not have been turned down when she sees others being allowed to work from home.

The next stage within equity theory is tension and according to the theory if a person feels that the tension is too great then they will take one of six steps to remove that tension (Adams as cited in Mullins, 2005). The most relevant one for this project is that of 'acting on others'.

Team manager C displays this behaviour by not allowing others to speak at meetings and undermining colleagues which are ways in which the inputs and outcomes (referred to in para 37above) of others can be diminished. Recently team manager C has also displayed another one of the six steps identified by Adams (Mullins, 2005) namely 'leaving the field' through requesting to work from home and informing other team managers that she is actively looking for employment outside of CWDC.

In summary, motivation theory is a helpful way of helping the author to understand the causes of behaviour of team manager C. However action to deal with these causes has been limited due to the author not having the ability to directly solve those causes e.g. having no responsibility for deciding whether she is allowed to work from home.

As a result of the work on the project, the author has put in place a key question at the end of year appraisal meeting asking each of his staff members for their views on what they perceive as equitable treatment within the organisation and whether there are any factors causing them to feel demotivated or dissatisfied.


Exploring the areas of culture and motivation in more detail has shown the importance and complexity of these two concepts. This has enabled the author to draw some very useful insights into both how organisations work but also how those two concept can affect the behaviour of individuals.

This will inform the relationship the author has with team manager C but will be particularly helpful for the author in the management of his own staff. As a result of the project the author has instigated a process whereby at each supervision session and end of year review he will seek a view from his team on their levels of motivation and satisfaction.

The author accepts that he would have liked to have had direct contact with team manager C to explore some of the issues around motivation arising from this report. This has been difficult due to the reluctance of the individual to engage. This has meant that the author has not been able to fully deal with the issues relating to his relationship with team manager C. However, the project has enabled the author to discuss many of the issues further with the respective line manager in a non emotive way bringing out the ideas arising out of this project with him.

At an organisation level, the author has been able to feedback his work on the cultural web to his line manager and at the time of writing of this report the manager has agreed for the cultural web analysis to take place at a future team managers meeting.

Reflective Statement

I have found this project very challenging. At the outset I chose a problem not readily associated with the subject of managing people as it related to the managing of a difficult relationship with a fellow colleague at the same level as me rather than managing staff. This has been one of the limitations within this project and because of the sensitivities around the individual I have been unable within the short period of this project, to feel sufficiently confident to speak directly to her. I have however held informal discussions with our now shared line manager. As an action point for the future I need to gather confidence to be able to speak to her about our relationship using what I have learnt as a basis.

The project was therefore an emotion related one and initially I found it difficult to explore the subjects within the project in an objective manner. The project and the module as a whole have made me more critical in my approach to managing people. Through reading about and analysing the theories around culture and motivation and applying them to the problem, has made me more aware about my organisation and how people behave. It has stressed to me the need for managers to be sensitive to these factors and to take action to resolve or reduce blockages to motivation. I have also learnt about my own motivational needs and how these influence my behaviour. I found the theories of Maslow and Herzberg very relevant to me.

Prior to embarking on this project, I had become dismissive of line manager C because of her behaviour to me and perhaps unknowingly had started taking sides with other colleagues who found her difficult to work with. The project has made me more understanding of her motivators and behaviour and has made me realise that ignoring her or the issues around her is not what I should do as a manager and professional. As a result I have taken a more understanding behaviour towards her looking more objectively as to why she may be behaving in the way she is, as well as ensuring that as a manager I do not condone or allow other colleagues to make negative remarks about her. I am also listening more carefully to what she says to ensure that I do not dismiss her suggestions on the basis of our relationship.

Learning about some key issues and theories around culture and motivation has also provided me with some very useful insights into my organisation. It has enabled me to understand CWDC's behaviours especially around its structures and 'bureaucratic' process and why its culture is the way it is.

I have also gained knowledge which I have been able to use in my work context. For example, in a recent meeting with colleagues from across the organisation, the subject of achieving cultural change within the context of workforce reform was raised. As a result of the work on this project I was able to engage more fully in the discussions and put forward some suggestions which I would not have been able to previously. Not only did this mean that my contribution was more effective than it would have been if I had not done this project, it also has given me greater confidence knowing that my knowledge base has improved.