Comparative Pattern of Determinants of Effective Conflict Resolution

SO far we have compared these organizations separately in each determinant of effective conflict resolution, both those that affected the behavior of the integrators only and those that had an impact on all managers. As we have done so, certain differences between the highly effective and the less successful organizations have become noticeable. As we stated earlier, however, we were not interested in the way any one of these determinants discriminated among these organizations, but in comparing the overall pattern of these determinants. To make this comparison we have indicated which organizations met each of these determinants to a high degree, to a medium extent, and to only a low degree (Table III— 6). In comparing these patterns, we should emphasize that there is at present no adequate theory or empirical evidence to guide us in judging the relative impact of each of these conditions. Certainly their impact is not simply additive. Similarly, while these conditions, like other determinants of behavior in organizational systems, are interrelated, we do not yet have sufficient knowledge to describe the precise relationship among them. For example, it is clear that in the high-performing organizations, where the integrators were seen as having influence based on their competence, the managers relied more on confrontation to reach decisions than did managers in the other four organizations. One can speculate that there is some relationship between these two facts. Perhaps in the organizations where the integrator’s influence was based more on positional authority, the integrators attempted to force decisions, which led other managers to respond with behavior other than confrontation.

While we could speculate on this and other relationships, as well as on which conditions had the greatest effect on decision- making behavior, it does not seem fruitful to do so with the data available. Rather, we have summarized these data so that the total configuration of determinants can be visually compared among organizations. From this comparison it is clear that in the two high-performing organizations there were more conditions that would lead to effective resolution of interdepartmental conflict. This overall finding provides an important explanation of how these two organizations managed to attain both high differentiation and integration, even though the two states were essentially antagonistic. Managers in these organizations were apparently able to deal effectively with conflict. In spite of their widely different ways of thinking and behavior patterns which enabled them to perform their specialized tasks, managers were able to reach decisions that provided effective collaboration.

The medium-performing organizations met these conditions for effective conflict resolution to a lesser extent than did the high- performing organizations but to a greater extent than the two low- performing organizations. These two medium performers had reached an apparent trade-off between the required differentiation and the necessary integration. Each organization had achieved one state, but not the other. Since medium-performing organization A was not highly differentiated, its managers were still able to achieve effective collaboration. Medium-performing organization B, on the other hand, had achieved the required differentiation, but its managers were not able to work across their different orientations and structures to resolve conflicts effectively and reach well-integrated decisions. All of this suggests that the inability of these managers to resolve conflict effectively con- tributed to their medium level of performance.

The situation in low-performing organization A appears similiar to that in medium-performing organization B, only perhaps worse. While this low performer had achieved the required differentiation, it met fewer of the conditions determining effective conflict resolution than did mediumperforming organization B. Consequently, its managers were even less effective at reaching joint decisions, and integration was even lower. The other low performer (low-performing organization B) also was very low in meeting all of these determinants of effective conflict resolution. As a result, it had achieved neither the differentiation nor the integration required in this environment. Even though its managers in various departments were closer together in their orientations and organizational practices than those in other organizations, their low effectiveness in handling conflict meant that they could not achieve the integration necessary to deal effectively with external conditions.

While these determinants of effective conflict resolution offer a good explanation of how organizations achieved both differentiation and integration, we need only compare the two low performers to see that it is probably not the entire explanation. Low performer A, which met these conditions to about the same extent as low performer B, did manage to achieve both better integration and higher differentiation. We have no further explanation of why this happened. We mention it only to illustrate that our knowledge is not complete. In spite of this limitation, however, it seems safe to conclude that organizations that are effective in a dynamic and diverse industry will have to meet these and perhaps other conditions that lead to effective resolution of interdepartmental conflict. In this way their managers will be able to maintain their highly specialized points of view and behavior patterns, while they work together to achieve a joint effort that is productive for the organization’s total objectives. In essence, the evidence indicates that high differentiation plus effective conflict resolution leads to high integration, and these are the overall conditions organizations must attain to be effective in this type of environment.

In considering these findings and their implications, the reader should be aware of an important fact. The use of these concepts of differentiation and integration, as well as those dealing with the determinants of effective conflict resolution, has enabled us to better understand the functioning of large organizations in a particular kind of environment. But other environments place other demands on organizations and their members. Most obviously, less differentiation may be required of organizations in other types of industry. Equally important, but perhaps less obvious, some of these determinants for effective conflict resolution may be different in other industries. For example, the level at which the influence to resolve conflict needs to be located may vary with the uncertainty of knowledge about the environ-ment. In more certain environments influence may be cen- | tered at higher levels in all departments without loss of effectiveness. Similarly, in other industries, where particular aspects of the environment are of strategic significance, a unit other than the integrating department may be required to be most influential.

While this description of how effective organizations in , other industries need to be different from the high-performing plastics organizations is only suggestive of the full extent of possible difference, the essential point is that we have found that such differences do exist. Our purpose in the next chapters is to investigate, in detail, how high-performing organizations in other environments differed from these firms. As we turn to this question we should issue an important caveat to the reader. What we have described so far is relevant only to understand the functioning of organizations   under   one set   of   technological,   scientific,   and economic conditions. Only after we have examined the requirements in other types f of industrial setting will we be in a position to consider the [ implications of this study for the broader practice of admin- ! istration and for organization theory. We ask the reader to ‘ resist the temptation to reach more general conclusions until we have described the second major part of this study.

Source: Lawrence Paul R., Lorsch Jay W. (1967), Organization and Environment: Managing Differentiation and Integration, Harvard Business School.

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