Determinants of Effective Conflict Resolution: Influence of Integrators

The second factor that we predicted might help to determine how effective the integrators would be in resolving in- terdepartmental conflict was how much influence they appeared to have in making the relevant joint decisions.2 We predicted that the integrators would need to be seen by others in their organization as having an important voice, in fact the most important voice, in decisions. Our reasoning was that, since none of the basic functions was uniquely critical for achieving the key goal of innovation, it would follow that integration was in itself the most problematic job. High weight given to integrators would lend prestige to their task and increase the likelihood that it would be achieved. As it turned out, the integrators in all six organizations were seen by their organizational colleagues as having high influence relative to the managers in the functional departments. In all six organizations, the integrating department was seen as either the first or second most influential in the organization on the critical issues of innovation (Table III—1). Therefore, even though this high influence may have been an important factor in the integrators’ effectiveness, we have not explored it further in this comparison, because it did not discriminate among these organizations.

While the managers’ assessment of the integrators’ relative influence did not vary among these organizations, we were aware, as a second aspect of this issue, that the basis upon which this influence was built could very well differ. Sociologists have pointed out that a person’s influence within an organization can stem from a number of factors—the formal position he occupies, his expertise or competence, or perhaps his age or length of service. More specifically, we were interested in the notion suggested by earlier writers that in a situation where expert judgments were required, influence over decisions based on a person’s position alone would not lead to effective problem resolution. In this industry, where joint decisions had to combine the expert judgment and knowledge of production, marketing, and scientific specialists, it appeared likely that integrators would not be helpful in resolving conflicts unless the specialists whose efforts they were tying together saw them as competent and knowledgeable.

As the functional managers spoke about their relationships with the integrators, it became apparent that there were, in fact, important differences in the reasons for the integrators’ high influence in the two high-performing organizations as compared with the others. In the former, the integrators were seen as being highly competent, and the managers related this expertise to their influence over decisions. Sample quotations from the managers in these two organizations illustrate this point:

The [integrator] has a powerful job if he can get the people to work for him. A good man in that job has everybody’s ear open to him. A good [integrator] has to be thoroughly oriented toward his market or to his process. Whichever area he is working in, he has to be able to make good value judgments.

 * * * * *

The [integrators] are the kingpins. They have a good feel for our [Research’s] ability, and they know the needs of the market. They will work back and forth with us and the others.

 * * * * *

The [integrator] is on the border of research, so we work closely together. The [integrators] are just a step away from the customer, so when I make a change in a material, I let them know because they may have a customer who can use it. The good thing about our situation is that the [integra- tors] are close enough to sales to know what they are doing and close enough to research to know what we are doing.

What the managers in these two organizations were saying was that the integrators were influential because managers valued their knowledge and their expertise. When conflicts arose, all concerned listened to the integrators because they respected their competence. The integrators in the other four organizations, who also had great influence over decisions, were listened to for quite different reasons. As the typical comments below indicate, these integrators had an important voice not so much because of the authority of knowledge, but more because of the formal authority given them by top management and their close reporting relationship to top managers:

A good [integrator] is a guy with a red hot bayonet. He doesn’t take “no” for an answer on anything. He is also in an enviable position, since he reports to the general manager and finds very little opposition to what he wants to do.

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Nobody wants to pull the wool over the integrator’s eyes, since he reports to the general manager. To do so would be disastrous for the individual. I don’t think anybody could be an [integrator] and have many friends. You have to be too aggressive.

The managers interviewed in these four organizations also emphasized another related point. They did not see the integrators as being particularly knowledgeable or expert:

For a man to move into [the integrating unit] should be a big thing. But it isn’t now. My guys [in research] can say I know more than that guy [in integrating]. People compare their skills with those of the integrators, and often the com- parison is not favorable.

 * * * * *

The integrator is supposed to know the field, and he may think our product isn’t any good. This is fine if you have confidence in him, but we have had a bad experience with some of them. As the knowledge of chemistry grows, the integra-tors’ knowledge of the market must grow. I guess I would appraise the situation this way: just because the integrators have had twenty years’ experience doesn’t mean they have twenty years of knowledge.

What these data suggest is not that authority stemming from the hierarchy is unnecessary, but rather that in solving complex problems it is possible for this type of influence to be inconsistent with the influence derived from knowledge about the problems to be solved. In the high-performing organizations the two kinds of authority coincided and reinforced each other. The integrators had the assigned authority to help resolve conflict, and their colleagues felt that they knew enough to carry out this assignment. In the other four organizations the integrators had the same assigned authority, but since they had less influence derived from knowledge, the two influence systems came into conflict. The functional managers felt that, in terms of knowledge and expertise, they themselves had more to contribute to decision making, and they resented the positional influence of the integrators. While they recognized that the integrators were influential, they did not always feel that their decisions were consistent with the facts of the situations. This seemed to lead to less effective resolution of conflict and, as important, to less motivation on the part of functional specialists to follow up on decisions reached.

We have no firm explanation of why the integrators in the high-performing organizations were seen as influential because of their competence while those in the other organizations were not. One possible explanation is that only in these two organizations were the integrators balanced in both time and goal orientations. This balance in the orientations of which the various specialists were most aware may have led the specialists to see the integrators as competent. But a second, and perhaps more important, reason why managers thought the integrators’ influence was derived from competence was that higher management did not pressure the integrators to use the authority of their position to force decisions in directions that the higher manager preferred.

Before we examine the third factor in the integrators’ effectiveness in resolving conflict, we should emphasize that in discussing the basis of influence we have been focusing on the extent to which these integrators were seen as competent and knowledgeable, and not on the extent to which they actually were. While we made no systematic attempt to compare the actual knowledge of integrators in these six organizations, all the readily available information, such as education and experience, would suggest that all the integrators were in fact quite similar in their actual knowledge about the technical and market problems facing them.

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

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