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While “conflict” in and of itself carries a negative connotation, it is important to understand functional conflict and it’s benefits in an organizational setting. Functional organization by definition is tension within a group that leads to a positive result. So while conflict is generally frowned upon, functional conflict means that individuals in a group discuss points of disagreement with a spirit of collaboration. Now, understanding the difference, we can identify what constitutes functional conflict, and the benefits of functional conflict within an organization, which include but is not limited to: Teamwork, maximum participation, increased cooperation, boost in team morale, increased productivity and greater respect for organizational leadership.
Arguably the most important benefit of functional conflict is that individuals within an organization are working together to solve issues from various vantage points. This benefits the organization in that it increases team effort and team building, and benefits each individual in learning alternative methods to their own and helps develop increased scope. It may also serve as a catalyst for team building and encourage cooperation between peers, by encouraging healthy argument of points. It can boost morale as each individual has the opportunity to have their opinion heard and acted upon. Increased cooperation will also bring about faster and better results in decisions that affect an entire team, when the final decision is made as a collective irrespective of the differing views.
Leaders of an organization can benefit from allowing team members to present their various outlooks and make the final decision without fear of resentment having considered everyone’s point of view respectfully. Opening the discussion to all team members greatly benefits diverse organizations which could suffer from autocratic leadership styles, when everyone feels included, rather than disregarded for any reason. History as well as studies show that conflict is inevitable, however, if leaders should avoid the traditional, negative view of conflicts, they can capitalize on the shift to an interactionist view. Encouraging constructive conflict will keep organizations from becoming monotonous and increase productive conflict resolution. Ultimately it benefits organizations not to view all conflicts as harmful and to be avoided in all instances.
For leaders, the onus is to find ways to discourage dysfunctional conflict. The approach could be either reactive or proactive, with the latter being the preferred. Implementing creative communication structures that safeguard against negative conflict can be a challenging balancing act, in allowing each person to share their views while maintaining a respectful atmosphere. Now, when there is already an existence of dysfunctional conflict, leaders must act to remediate the instances. One way is by having intervention with the entire group or team, with open discussion and input from everyone with all parties and come to a resolve together. Another way is to mediate between the conflicting parties with the understanding that the final decision will be made by the leader having considered the arguments. Other ways include putting the issues to votes, open or anonymous, meeting regularly as a team to discuss important team decisions and dealing with conflicts based on prescriptive organizational constructs. Which method to use depends on a number of variables which a leader will consider when choosing what leadership style best suits each circumstance. Some consultation with a leaders peers or higher management may be required in extreme cases a s well.
Ultimately, it is good to have functional conflict within organizations that promote team work, inclusion and varying points of action from all team members. This will increase cooperation, boost morale and also increase productivity. It is important to recognize that avoiding conflict all together is not as beneficial as encouraging functional conflict in a controlled manner with strong management systems and leaders mediating. Leaders have a responsibility to Leaders have a responsibility to identify, choose and use the right management styles, having considered all variables and diversities in the groups construct. As an added precaution and to avoid faltering, it serves leaders to consult as a collective and employ the assistance of higher authority in extreme circumstances.