24 JULY 2000

Conflict on Staff Teams

Roger Neugebauer* states that "in a creative organization the clash of ideas an opinions keeps the organization growing and improving. He talks about the administrator's responsibility for promoting "healthy conflict".

Signs of Healthy Conflict

Conflict among staff in an agency can be helpful if it ...

  • generates new ideas, new perspectives
  • provokes an evaluation of organizational structures or center design
  • brings individuals' reservations and objections out into the open
  • heightens the debate about pending decisions or problems
  • forces the re-examination of current goals, policies or practices
  • focuses attention on problems inhibiting performance at the center
  • energizes staff gets them actively involved in the life of the center

But not all conflict is positive, says Neugebauer. "A dispute over an organizational issue which is ignored by the director can deteriorate into acrimony and bring down staff morale. A personal feud which erupts between two or more staff members can distract participants from doing their jobs." The director must distinguish between healthy and unhealthy conflict.

Signs of unhealthy conflict

Conflict between staff in an agency can be destructive if ...

  • one person or faction is bound and determined to emerge victorious
  • focus of the debate changes but the adversaries remain the same
  • discussion never moves from complaints to solutions
  • staff members start taking sides
  • parents, community groups or other outside parties get drawn into the debate
  • continuing acrimony starts to erode staff morale
  • dissension continues even after a decision is hammered out
  • debate focuses on personalities, not issues.

"Aside from the harm an uncontrolled conflict does to an organization, your inability as manager to control it may lead to your overthrow, either by angry contestants of by impatient bystanders."

Theodore Caplow


* Read the article:
Neugebauer, R (1992) When friction flares ... dealing with staff conflict. The Child and Youth Care Administrator, Vol.4 Number 1

This journal is now called The Child and Youth Care Leader and is a publication of Nova University. Enquires may be directed to Nova University, CAE, 3301 College Avenue, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33314, USA


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