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Middle Management Team Conflict

Angelina Spaulding
BIS 343: Social Processes in Organizations
College of Letters and Sciences
Arizona State University

Middle Management Team Conflict


As a young store manager for a major retail chain, situations of group conflict had been
experienced. The eight-member district manager-led team often worked independently of each
other, however situations would arise that created dependent work group situations. The district
manager had been with the company for a fair amount of time, and had recently been promoted
into the role. The team of retail managers was a diverse group in the terms of experience, skills
and cognitive ability. The team had been a consistent group of people, which helped to develop
strong relational ties between team members. About a year after the team had been brought
together, one of the more tenured team members had transitioned into another role within the
company; thus leaving a vacant space on the team. This vacancy would result in the bringing
on of a new team member, whose toxic behavior caused rifts within the team that resulted in
conflict.
The newly positioned retail manager within the group had come from outside of the
company. Being a new manager the individual had not been tuned into the cultural of the
organization. A culture that promoted the use of positive task conflict (Thompson, 2014, p.
197), also known as cognitive conflict or C-type conflict (p. 197), in a manner that would help
the team to search for ways to determine main focuses and important directives. This was a
way for the group to discuss opinions in an environment that would facilitate engagement of
divergent opinions in a productive fashion that would help to lead to consensus on the team's
task at hand.
The new retail managers perception of conflict, ...the extent to which there is
agreement...of whether team members perceive conflict (Thompson, 2012, p. 199) resulted in a
perceptual conflict composition (p. 199) that had been disproportionate to the true reality on
the team. Essentially, saying that this new team manger did not perceive this type of interaction
as task conflict, but rather as a form of relational conflict (p. 197) that involves disagreements
based on personal and social issues that are not work related (Thompson, 2014). The new

store manager believed that the presences of task conflict, was actually relational conflict from
the social interactions that occurred outside of the professional work environment. This belief
by the retail manager, lead to a motivation to acquire relationship-threatening information
(MARTI) (p. 198) to help better understand the situation.
The act of MARTI is when an individual is, ...motivated to search for information
regarding whether other team members have threatened or harmed them and these individuals
...make more sinister attributions about their co-workers (Thompson, 2014, p. 198). This
toxic behavior of relational oriented conflict that resulted from the misunderstanding of the
teams use of task conflict to facilitate focus on team challenges, resulted in behavior that lead
to an enhancement of relational conflict within the team. This sort of action resulted in the
development of minority and majority factions within the team. Out of the eight group team
members, two other team members developed a sense of conversion (p. 203) when the
individuals started siding with the beliefs of the new retail manager. This resulted in the
development of a minority and majority perspective within the group. The minorities of the
group offered a, ...differing opinion that leads ...the general level of cognitive activity in the
group to increase and group members engage in more message scrutiny (p. 204). This directly
impacted the team's performance, cognitive functionality, the ability to process information,
reduced team effectiveness, and distracted the team from any of the tasks at hand (Thompson,
2014). People were engaging in more emotional based conflict interactions rooted in the
animosity that had been introduced to the group when the new store manager actively acquired
insights on the perception of herself from others within the group, and then using that
information as a way of alienating a portion of the group by creating a minority perspective.
Blake and Mouton believe that it can take at least five sources of action when they find
themselves involved with conflict (p. 206), which all greatly vary in distribution amongst the
model based on which people are concerned for themselves and the other party (Thompson,
2014, p. 206). This thought is based on the The Managerial Grid, which plots the five choices

competition, collaboration, compromise, avoidance, accommodation (Thompson, 2-14, p.


207). These five actions are then positioned on a chart with the y-axis reflecting concern for
oneself (self-interest: self-preservation) versus the x-axis, which plots the Concern for the other
person (empathy) (p. 207). Based on the case of the toxic retail manager it would likely to see
the story plotted as a high concern for oneself, but low concern for the other person. The
situation the team is experiencing conflict wise is a high level of competition. In reading the
Managerial Grid the model would helps to show that the new retail manager is essentially
concerned more with problems associated with oneself, and used that feeling to develop a
sense of competition among the others within the team.
Wageman and Donnenfelds Conflict Intervention Model (Thompson, 2014, pp. 210 212) could have been used in this scenario as a way to help resolve the concerns within the
team. According to the model three intervention methods may have been useful. First, task
process coaching, which focuses on helping the team to perform better via changes in effort,
strategy, and talent (p. 210). This could have been done if the district manager found a way to
motivate the team as a whole, rather than using a method that was simply attempting to
change the individual (p. 211). Yes, it would have been helpful to provide the newer manager
with a better understanding of the dynamics of the team, however the entire team should have
been involved in the opportunity of creating a more cohesive team by developing a safer
environment where people did not feel as threatened to speak one's voice. This lack of security
helped to breed contentment. Another major problem is that the district manager allowed this
behavior to occur for too long within the team. If the district manager intervened sooner with
conflict process coaching, which is a direct intervention in a team to improve the quality of
conflict (Thompson, 2014, p. 210), it could have been likely to consider that people within the
group may have been more receptive to a resolution earlier in the scenario, rather than later
when emotions had been running so high for so long.

What caused the greatest negative conflict within this case, is that the newest retail
manager on the team did not understand the dynamics that had developed over a period of time
prior to this manager entering the group. If the new manager had been slightly more reactive to
the culture of the organization and to the interactions that established team members had within
the group, it could be likely to consider that the new retail manager would have understood that
task conflict had been a productive tool within the team. The ability for the manger to use
methods to create a minority perspective within the group, helped to create a large amount of
dysfunction within the group. If the district manager intervened in the conflict early on at a group
level, as well as an individual level, than it is possible to believe that the team would have a
better opportunity to resolve contentions sooner and in a more productive fashion to benefit the
entire team as a whole.

Reference:
Thompson, L.L. (2014). Conflict in teams. In Making the team: A guide for managers (5th ed.)
[Ebook] (pp. 195 - 214). Retrieved from
https://reader.brytewave.com/app/index.html#/book/Mk5 STAy/Mw==