3 easy actions to reduce conflicts at work

The impact of conflicts at work

A survey done in 2008, found that U.S. employees spent 2.8 hours per week dealing with conflicts at work. This amounts to approximately $359 billion in paid hours (based on average hourly earnings of $17.95), or the equivalent of 385 million working days.

Conflicts in the work environment are widespread. Experts offer several causes of workplace conflict, including:

  • Personality differences.
  • Workplace behaviors regarded by some co-workers as irritating.
  • Unmet needs in the workplace.
  • Perceived inequities of resources.
  • Unclarified roles in the workplace.
  • Competing job duties or poor implementation of a job description

In this post, I’m going to address two of the main reasons listed above. Unclarified roles in the workplace, and condent job duties or poor implementation of a job description.

Job descriptions

When people hand are the machinery that creates products; their role in the organization is simple, specific and unchanged. For those roles, a Job Description (JD) is a perfect match. You can write a JD. Once the JD stored, no one (except HR people) can see the job description, but it really doesn’t matter. People know exactly what other people should do. They are all clogs in the machine.

When people are using their head to create a business system their role in the organization is complex, varied and change all the time. In this scenario, job descriptions are simply not a fit for the need of the organization. Such an organization required everyone to know what they are providing and responsible for as well as what others in the organization are accountable and providing. Even if the organization is operating as a hierarchy, it is actually a network of connected people. In a system, that works as a network of dependent roles, everyone must know what others are doing. Such as system also need to keep this data updated.

Regardless if your organization is closer to the first type or the second, most chances that you are using job description. The data above just prove us that this way of keeping people accountability is not a fit. It causes unclear expectations of what people should and shouldn’t do. The fact that the data is not easily accessible cause people to speculate what other people’s responsibilities. Vague expectation and speculations are very fertile ground for conflicts at work.

Role-based system

There is another way to define people’s roles and responsibilities, a better way than the job description system. It’s a simple system that taking a different (and healthier) approach to provide visibility of what everyone expects to do, and not to do.

This system has two steps. The first one is a definition of all the needed functions to reach the company purpose. The second is to assign people to all the defined functions.

Defining functions starts with the purpose of the company. Once a company has a purpose, you need to identify all the functions that needed to reach the company goals. Part of those functions will be roles, and part of them will be groups containing other groups and roles.

For each function, you need to define a purpose that is derived from the company purpose, assets that the function manages, what the function is responsible for and metrics that can indicate how the function is performing. Functions can be the secretary of the company, marketing or being compliance with rules and regulations.

When all the functions needed to support the organization purpose defined, the following criteria can be used to determine if a function is a role or a group:

  • Roles are the smallest element in the system.
  • Roles can define connections with other roles, events that they need to respond to and modules (which are a set of instructions a role can perform when a specific event happened)
  • A person will fill a role or multiple roles.
  • Group used to collect roles and subgroups that need to work together to achieve a common purpose.
  • People will be part of a group if they are filling a role within the group.
  • “Group” is a generic term that can be translated into several company structures such as division, department, and team.

Based on those criteria, functions need to be defined as roles or groups. All the groups need to follow the same logic, and the process needs to be followed until just roles defined for a group. This recursive exercise should create all the roles and the groups required to support the organization purpose. It will guarantee that an organization knows what needs to be done to reach its purpose.

The next step is to take all the people that are working for the company and base on their knowledge, experience and competencies assign them to one or more roles. This assignment can be done by assigning a group leader and ask him to assign people to positions within a group or in any other way.

When you’ve done with this step, everyone that is part of the organization should know which roles everyone fills, what they manage, what they responsible for, and how to see their progress. This information should be kept in a system that will enable any member of an organization to search the data for any field that was defined for a role or a group. When I say every member, I mean that this system should be publically available for any member of the organization.

Defining all roles and groups without keeping them updated with changes that happen all the time, is a recipe to create a huge garbage pile that no one is going to use. The system of records should enable adding, removing and updating both roles and groups intuitively and straightforwardly. One of the best practices is to define a role in any group that responsible for keeping the group updated.

A software system like that can be used as a reference point to understand if an individual filling a role is aware of your expectations from him, and they are defined as his responsibilities. The system can help to find out who is managing what and to validate that individuals are not performing duties assigned to others. This knowledge will decrease significantly two of the leading cause of conflicts at work. If any individual see any gap between his expectation from other roles and the definition of these roles, he can use the right company process to resolve those gaps before they become a conflict at work.

With some small effort and organization can leverage software to create a live and updated repository of all company’s roles and by doing that to reduce potential conflicts at work.

Conflicts at work

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