Suppose you take a car to the repair shop with a malfunctioning engine. The mechanics take a good look at it and after running a diagnostic test, it is evident that the car has a malfunctioning alternator. One mechanic is adamant that only a new alternator will fix the problem. However, another mechanic thinks the existing alternator can be fixed. Since the two mechanics are equal in seniority, they both feel their way is the right and correct way.
The above example denotes a disagreement about accomplishing a task, in this case, fixing a mechanical problem. The two mechanics are in a conflict on how to achieve the end goal. Specifically, they can’t agree on who has final decision. This scenario represents what is known as a process conflict
A process conflict should be seen from the perspective of a conflict, which has been defined elsewhere in the blog as a competition for limited resources while in pursuit of satisfying defined interests. In a work environment skills are a limited resource. Employees who demonstrate higher level skills are more likely to get a high score in the annual performance review, which in turn could lead to a bonus pay. Alternatively, a higher score could be the launch pad to a long-desired promotion. As such, employees will do what they can to showcase that they have a better set of skills than their colleagues.
Employees in any given task will look to compete amongst themselves in an environment with insufficient communication by management on job expectations, or with no properly laid out procedures on action steps should such a conflict arise.
It is important for team members to feel that their ideas are welcome; that they are viewed not just as space fillers but important pieces in the achievement of the organization’s overall goals. Mitigating process conflict enables increased productivity as team members spend less time haggling, develop increased ownership of results, and establish cordial coexistence between team members.
Process conflict thrives where there is no defined responsibility; the greater the ambiguity is the greater the potential for conflict to surface. Such jurisdictional ambiguity increases inter-group fighting for control.
Individual personality traits play a key role in the manifestation of process conflict. A team comprising members who are either submissive, aggressive, or assertive will experience process conflicts as each type of behavior influences how a member responds to different variables in the process of getting the job done. Having a submissive team member may entail grumbling and noncooperation where team efforts are required. Concurrently, having an aggressive team member is likely to put off other members and the result likely to have signs of a one-man show. Eventually, this is detrimental to future team projects. Management should therefore team up compatible staff for a project. Whereas it is not always possible to have employees who are assertive, this can be attained by proper training and coaching.
Process conflict can be transformed by promoting a philosophy of the process being more important than the result. Such values will help employee strive to working together in a mutual collaborative way as opposed to competing to generate the end results.