Determinants of Effective Conflict Resolution: Intermediate Position of Integrators

The first factor that we predicted might enable the integrators to be more effective in their jobs had to do with their own orientations and the structure of their departments. If the integrators had developed goal, time, and interpersonal orientations equidistant among those of the managers in the various departments they were linking, we predicted they would be more effective in resolving conflicting viewpoints than if they tended clearly toward one orientation.2 Similarly, we expected greatest effectiveness if the structure of the integrating department was intermediate between that of the highly structured production unit and the least structured research laboratory. In essence, if the integrators thought and behaved in ways that were not too dissimilar to those of each of the departments with which they had to work, they would be better able to communicate with all these departments and thus to help solve interdepartmental disagreements. If the integrators adopted points of view and behavioral patterns that were too similar to those of any one functional department, the others would see them as understanding only the problems of that particular unit and not as responsive to the problems of other units.

Our findings seem generally to support these predictions (Figure III—1). In one of the two high-performing organizations (high performer A), the integrating department had an intermediate structure, and its members had developed approximately equidistant time, goal, and interpersonal orientations. In one of the two low-performing organizations (low performer A), the integrators were intermediate in only one attribute (interpersonal orientation) . In the other four or- ganizations, the integrators were intermediate among the functional departments in only two of the four attributes we measured.

In interviews managers in the medium- and low-performing organizations indicated that the lack of balanced thinking on the part of integrators limited their ability to facilitate in- terdepartmental decision making. They expressed most concern about a lack of balance in either the time or the goal orientation of the integrators. For example, the functional managers in medium- performing organization A and in the two low-performing organizations, where the integrators were not intermediate in time orientation, complained frequently that the integrators were too preoccupied with current problems to be helpful in dealing with longer-range matters. For example, below are some typical comments from managers:

I am no integrator, but I can see that one of our troubles is that the integrators are so tied up in day-to-day detail that they can’t look to the future. They are still concerned with [this year’s] materials when they should be concerned with [next year’s] markets.

 * * * * *

We get lots of reports from [the integrators] and we talk to them frequently. The trouble is that all they present to us [in research] are short-term needs. They aren’t the long- range things in which we are interested.

 * * * * *

[The integrators] only find out about problems when they find out somebody has quit buying our material and is buy- ing somebody else’s, and this keeps you on the defensive. A lot of our work is catch-up work. We would like more future- oriented work from them.

Similarly, functional managers in medium-performing or- ganization B and low-performing organization A frequently complained about the integrators’ lack of balance in goal ori- entation:

Our relations with [the integrators] are good, but not as good as with research. The [integrating] people are not as cost conscious as the laboratory people. They are concerned with the customer.

 * * * * *

The [integrator] is under a lot of pressure to work with salesmen on existing products in our product line. What the [integrator] should be and often tries to act like is a liaison person, but in reality he is not. He is too concerned with sales problems.

 * * * * *

What’s lacking is that the [integrators] are so busy that they continually postpone working with research. They work closely with applied research with minor modifications, but the contact with basic research is minimal.

The fact that the managers in these four organizations ex- i pressed most concern with the lack of balance in time and goal orientation does not mean, in our view, that interpersonal orientation and structure were not equally important. Instead it suggests that the imbalances they mentioned were more obvious to them. The integrating departments in these organizations were also not intermediate in structure or interpersonal orientation of members. This was probably a source of misunderstanding in many cases, but the managers were not manifestly aware of the difficulties caused by these ; differences.

One example of how the structure of the integrating de- i partment had an impact on the effectiveness of the integrators ! occurred in the case of a production manager in low-perform- | ing organization A. This manager complained that the inte- !grators were constantly coming to him about matters that  should be handled several levels higher up the production hierarchy. From the point of view of the integrators, accus-tomed in their own department to emphasis on direct contact among managers at lower levels, this seemed appropriate. But to this production manager, in a highly structured department where rules and procedures specified who did what, the integrators’ behavior was an irritant, which reduced his effectiveness in working with the plant manager on matters that the latter could handle. The plant manager did not realize that it was the difference in structure that created his problem, but to us this seemed to be the case.

In this discussion we have made no mention of high-per- forming organization B. Even though its integrators were in- termediate in only two of the attributes, all the evidence available from both questionnaires and interviews indicated that they were effective in bringing about integration among the basic departments. One possible explanation could be that the integrators were intermediate in the two attributes (time and goal orientations) of which other managers were most aware. There appears, however, to have been another, more important, factor, which we shall come to shortly.

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

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